On Monday, 26 year old Greensboro native Joey Cheek won the gold medal in men's 500m speed skating. Cheek has not been one of the highlighted athletes and wasn't even expected to win a gold. He could have simply enjoyed the limelight and tried to turn that into mass marketability and money. But he chose to take his time with reporters in a different direction.
Cheek came from a family where money was by no means rampant (and supporting an Olympic hopeful not an easy task), but it was a family where they believed they should help others who were in need. They gave money, time, energy and effort to help local and global efforts. At Cheek's press conference, he said he didn't really want to talk about the sacrifice and the great moment of winning a medal - he wanted to talk about the people of the Sudan. He highlighted the very difficult situation there, and then said he was giving his winnings ($25,000 for a gold medal - a healthy amount of money for a struggling and fairly unknown athlete) and any future winnings from any other medals he might win to Right to Play, an organization helping Sudanese refugee children in Chad. He challenged the sponsors to do the same. So far, Nike has accepted that challenge.
Cheek is hoping to hang up his skates and go to college. Harvard rejected his application for early admission. Let's hope they will realize the value of a person who sees the value in helping others and taking his moment of fame to highlight people in need.
Honorable mentions to Bode Miller, who with his family has always done and given a lot to those in need; and to 19 year old Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White - the snowboarding genius and my son's hero - for saying that all this fame stuff is kinda cool, but family is the most important thing (Sonny Boy and I watched the interview together - hope it gets through that thick 11 year old skull!).