Olympians giving back through Team For Tomorrow

Updated: December 21, 2009, 1:51 PM ET
Associated Press

John Benton knows winning at the Olympics doesn't necessarily mean coming home with a medal dangling around his neck.

Benton, a member of the U.S. Olympic curling team, is one of 13 members of Team For Tomorrow, a group of U.S. athletes spending time this winter doing charity work and helping out in communities.

Among other things, they visit schools and hospitals, help with reading programs and build houses: One of Benton's goals is to get all the U.S. Olympic curlers involved in a Habitat for Humanity house at some point after the Vancouver Games.

Benton is a recovering alcoholic and said volunteering is "pretty much a hallmark of my recovery program and everyone's recovery program."

"It's the spirit of giving without expectation of getting anything back in return," Benton said. "It's a core philosophy of mine right now and it feeds right into this experience."

The U.S. Olympic Committee started Team for Tomorrow in 2008 with a donation of 1,000 tents to survivors of the devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan province.

Over the past month, the USOC donated more than 25,000 items of athletic equipment and clothing to Olympic movements in Africa and Afghanistan.

The USOC has long walked a fine line with its international assistance programs -- wanting to help expand the Olympic movement across the globe, but not wanting to draw too much attention to it, lest people view the efforts as publicity stunts for a federation that needs to improve its international image.

But Benton said there is no down side to this kind of program. He thinks sometimes the largesse of the Olympics can obscure one of the original purposes of the games. The stated goal of the Olympics is to use "sport to promote the balanced development of people as an essential step in building a peaceful society that places a high value on human dignity."

"I'd like to think the Olympics still has that higher purpose," said Benton, who recently spoke to a group of kids a Valley View Elementary School in Green Bay, Wis.

Other members of Team For Tomorrow include figure skater Rachel Flatt, paralympian Taylor Lipsett, hockey player Caitlin Cahow and Tony Benshoof in luge.

Lipsett plans on helping build a house in Dallas after the Paralympics. Disabled since he was a child, he knows he has a message with a meaningful impact.

"Things that able-bodied people take for granted, disabled people have to figure out ways to deal with that on a daily basis," he said. "And to go see some of these kids and talk to them, let them see that I was able to overcome things like that and tell them, you know, if they put their mind to it, they can also overcome these obstacles."


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Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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