A narrow, airborne plank is no place for overthinking — particularly when you’re catapulting over ice. That’s why snowboarder Hannah Teter has learned to let her instincts take over. And her instincts are good: Teter’s spectacular half-pipe routines have earned her two Olympic medals and a handful of X-Games medals.
On the slopes, she’s clear that her sixth sense of space and time can make the difference between a jaw-dropping move and a jaw-breaking crash. Away from the slopes, the 23-year-old snowboarding star relies on instincts of a more charitable sort.
In the past three years, this budding philanthropist has donated every penny of her snowboard winnings to humanitarian causes around the globe — more than $200,000 at last count. For her, it’s a gut-level response to human suffering — a compulsion to help — and it comes as naturally to Teter as her half-pipe acrobatics.
“Since I was young, I always knew that if I made it big or had a good job, I’d want to help out in whatever ways I could, because when I give back I just feel so hooked up with life,” says Teter. “So, as I got into my snowboarding career, I really started feeling like, ‘You’ve got to reach back out. Give back. You have it so good. You can’t hoard all the goodness you have.’”
Teter’s humanitarian-minded parents certainly had an effect on their youngest child’s worldview, but it was Hannah’s older brothers, Abe and Elijah, who helped her hone her snowboarding moves. She watched them on the half-pipes near her hometown of Belmont, Vt., and later as members of the U.S. snowboarding team.
Teter began taking lessons at the age of 8, and at 15 nabbed first place in the World Junior Halfpipe Championships. She brought home Olympic gold from Turin in 2006 and silver earlier this year from Vancouver, solidifying her ranking as one of the most successful female snowboarders of all time.
After her gold-medal triumph in Turin, Teter was ready to “give back” in a big way. So she created a nonprofit maple-syrup company called “Hannah’s Gold,” which, with the help of the humanitarian group World Vision, funds a variety of projects in the village of Kirindon in Kenya. “Eighty thousand people live there, so it’s a huge project,” says Teter, who won VH1’s 2010 Do Something Award for her efforts.
“We started off with smaller stuff. The town is very spread out, so first we bought a bunch of bikes to help villagers collect drinking water and get to school. Then we helped bring in farming tools and seeds and organic fertilizers. Now we’re training people to help HIV/AIDS patients, because right now when somebody finds out a person has AIDS, that person basically gets excluded from the community.
“We also helped put an addition on a school and helped build an all-girls boarding school. Our big project now is the water project and drilling wells and catching rainwater,” she notes. “We’ve been just gaining so much ground. It’s amazing!”
Teter funds these projects through a variety of partnerships: Hannah’s Gold sells a locally produced maple syrup (a nod to the Teter family’s annual tree-tapping ritual); Vermont’s own Ben & Jerry’s kicks in a portion of the sales of Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie ice cream; snowboard outfitter Burton donates a slice of the profits from its “goodness” T-shirts; and, most recently, Teter has created a line of underwear called “Sweet Cheeks” to help fund Children International’s global poverty programs.
Beyond her penchant for service and “big air,” the fun-loving Teter has a real affection for hip-hop and hula-hoops. (“I’ve been doing that a lot lately and learning tricks,” she says.) But she clearly has a calm and serious side, too. She’s a longtime vegetarian and devoted yoga practitioner who prepares for competitions with visualization, deep breathing, tai chi and meditation. And she’s no slouch in the weight room — she can squat 250 pounds.
This mix of 20-something playfulness, world-class competitiveness and save-the-world selflessness all seems to come easily to Teter. And, as she gears up for another snowboarding season, her instincts tell her she’s heading in the right direction. “I want to continue on this path and use my winnings to help other people,” she says. “It’s not enough to do it just for me.”
Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor.