Sitting in the athlete tent at the Burton US Open in Vail on Saturday, three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Hannah Teter wasn't just thinking about her contest run. Or the crash that kept her from making finals.
"It's at $2,000 right now," Teter said, glancing up from her phone, where a few moments earlier she'd pulled up a GoFundMe page she created in November. "We need to get that number up. Even if a few hundred people give 20 bucks, it adds up. I think people forget that it doesn't take a big donation to help someone, just a lot of little donations."
Teter, who is known for her charitable work as much as for her snowboarding, launched her newest fundraising campaign after learning her good friend and X Games teammate Daina Shilts had been selected to represent the U.S. at the Special Olympics Winter World Games in Austria. The problem was, Shilts wasn't sure she could accept the invitation.
"She told me she couldn't afford the trip," Teter says.
According to Marc Edenzon, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics North America, while the cost for each athlete to attend the World Games varies per country, the average cost for each Special Olympics USA athlete is approximately $6,500, which covers travel, training, equipment and uniforms.
"I was like, 'There's no way you're not going,'" Teter says. "'You're so talented.' That'd be like making the Olympics next year and not being able to go. I couldn't imagine that."
Teter, 30, thought about her own Olympic experiences, including winning gold in the halfpipe in Torino in 2006, and what it would feel like to be denied the opportunity to compete. So she not only launched a GoFundMe page for Shilts, she and her older brother, Amen, director of action sports at Octagon, also enlisted a few of their famous friends, including snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Danny Davis, ski racer Julia Mancuso, speed skating icon Apolo Anton Ohno and gymnast Simone Biles, to create a video to promote a larger GoFundMe campaign aimed at raising money for Special Olympics athletes around the world.
"We're all pushing it out on our social media channels so it gets to as many people as possible," Teter says.
So far, the video has more than 20,000 views and more than 500 campaigns have been created through GoFundMe's global partnership with the Special Olympics. Of the funds raised in each campaign, 50 percent will go toward supporting local athletes, 25 percent to international hopefuls and 25 percent toward helping organizers put on the World Games. On Tuesday, GoFundMe announced that five top YouTube stars will join in on the fundraising collaboration, utilizing the power of their combined 44.7 million subscribers to share personal stories of athletes like Shilts and raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics.
"After I came down from the excitement of being chosen for the team, it hit me that I couldn't afford the trip," says the 25-year-old Shilts, who's from Neillsville, Wisconsin. "I thought it was absolutely cool when I heard Hannah started a GoFundMe page for me. I was on top of the world. I'm very grateful. And I leave for Austria on Sunday!"
Teter and Shilts first met at the 2013 World Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where they competed together in a Special Olympics Unified Sports dual slalom snowboarding race. Unified events pair athletes with and without intellectual disabilities in competition, and in their first race together, the duo won gold. It was Shilts' first time competing at the World Games, her goal since joining the Special Olympics when she was 8.
"We instantly clicked," Shilts says of Teter. "We're like two peas in a pod. We're both friendly and funny, and we're the same size. And we both absolutely love snowboarding. She's my best friend -- and I'm so thankful for her."
While in South Korea, Teter also held a snowboarding clinic, attended breakout sessions and worked with Special Olympics executives to increase support for snowboarding and youth sports within the Special Olympics. She had flown to Korea just days after competing at the X Games in Tignes, France, so the event was front of mind. She approached Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver with an idea.
"It was a no-brainer to get the Unified snowboarding race into X Games," Teter says. "Tim started sketching an X Games and Special Olympics logo right then, and the relationship blossomed from there."
The following January, Special Olympics named Teter a global ambassador, and she joined current athletes Ohno, Michael Phelps, Dikembe Mutombo and Nadia Comaneci in promoting the organization's pillars of acceptance, inclusion, respect and dignity for people with intellectual disabilities.
Teter's brother Josh, the youngest of her four older brothers, is challenged with intellectual disabilities and inspired her to become involved with her local Vermont chapter of the Special Olympics. As a global ambassador, she honors his story by working to break down barriers for athletes like Josh. Next year, he hopes to compete in bowling in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle (July 1-6).
"I saw the challenges Josh faced, how he was pushed to the outside and how there weren't any programs that involved him," Teter says. "When I discovered Special Olympics and saw how it integrates these athletes into programs that change the whole way they see themselves and how they perform, it blew my mind. I wanted to be involved."
One year after her conversation with Shriver in South Korea, Teter and Shilts lined up to compete in the inaugural Special Olympics Unified Sports race at the 2015 X Games Aspen, where they took silver. They followed that finish with a bronze medal in 2016 and a silver in January. The pair hopes to partner again in Austria, where Teter will also walk with the U.S. in the Opening Ceremony on March 18.
"The Unified races are so much fun and take you back to the roots of why you started snowboarding," Teter says. "It makes you feel grateful for all that you have. The athletes are so fired up to be there. It gets you back to feeling how you used to feel when you competed. It's inspiring to compete with them. I can't wait for the World Games. Now we just need to get everyone there."