ASPEN, Colo. -- Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Hannah Teter will travel to Sochi this week to compete for her third Olympic medal for Team USA, but she says her trip to Aspen this past weekend was even more important, and not because of X Games.
Earlier this week, Teter, 27, was named the first action sports athlete to represent the Special Olympics as a global ambassador, a role shared by such athletes as Michael Phelps, Yao Ming and Apolo Anton Ohno.
"Growing up, it was always in the back of my mind that if I ever make it big, I want to do something huge to help out in the world," Teter said. "To me, this is really making it big. Some people might think it's fame and some people might think it's money or gold medals. To me, it's being able to be a part of world-changing organizations like the Special Olympics."
On Sunday, she spent the day racing on a giant slalom course at Aspen's Ajax Mountain, paired with teammate Cody Field, the Special Olympics Colorado Male Athlete of the Year and a three-time gold medalist from the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Teter and Field finished second in the race.
"The Special Olympics motto is, 'Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.' These athletes live that statement, and that's how I've kept it going all these years myself," Teter said. "And I look forward to sharing that motto far and wide."
Field had the honor of introducing Teter at a welcome ceremony later in the day, telling the crowd that participating in Special Olympics has helped him make new friends "who do not judge me for my differences but accept me for who I am."
For Teter, the new role is a giant next step in a career that has been as much about supporting charities and nonprofits she believes in as it has been about snowboarding. She donates most of her contest prize winnings, and after winning gold at the 2006 Torino Olympics, she founded a maple syrup company designed to funnel funds to a humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organization. After winning silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she started an underwear company that benefits a nonprofit children's organization.
"Hannah grew up with a pretty tender heart," said older brother Amen, who doubles as her agent and manager. "When she was 7 or 8, she started using her allowance to sponsor children in need. She's just kind of been that way all along. Our parents tried to raise us all to be as compassionate as possible."
Hannah and Amen have two brothers with pro snowboarding pedigree, Elijah and Abe. Another, Josh, has intellectual disabilities, and Hannah says her involvement with Special Olympics embodies a strong personal connection.
"Josh has yet to be involved with Special Olympics, but we're hoping to get him into some events this year," she said. "Growing up, I definitely saw the segregation of how he was treated at school. I always saw him as just one of us -- we'd do everything together. But then I'd see how he was treated as this 'other' out in the world. It was always eye-opening, and I'm definitely bringing some of that personal experience to this new role."
Teter says Special Olympics is the biggest thing she's ever been a part of, and the most meaningful. Her role as global ambassador has her as motivated as ever to go big in the Olympics. Teter made the podium in all three of the U.S. Grand Prix events at Mammoth Mountain in January and secured her spot on the U.S. Olympic halfpipe team alongside Kelly Clark, Arielle Gold and Kaitlyn Farrington.
"This time around was definitely the most challenging to make the team -- but I thrive under pressure, and now I'm even more pumped up to use this platform for good," she said.
Teter tends to take contests casually, but she turns it up when it matters. For her, the Olympics matter.
"She realizes the value of the Olympic stage, and you can mark my words: She will win a medal in Sochi," Amen said. "Every four years, like clockwork, she'll pull things out of her hat when it matters. But she doesn't look at every contest like that. Snowboarding is fun for her, and she doesn't want to treat it like a job all the time."
It was precisely that attitude that caught the attention of the Special Olympics' board of directors.
"She was a natural for us," said Janet Froetscher, CEO of Special Olympics International. "Our athletes love to have people they've known and admired from afar come and play with them, as Hannah did when she came to Korea and when she was on the mountain with them here in Aspen.
"Winter sports are the fastest growing Special Olympics events, and we see Hannah as the perfect person to inspire this new generation and bring out the champions inside all of them."