A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Another Class Act

On 13 February, US Olympic Speedskater Joey Cheek won his first gold medal in the 500m (not short track, like Ohno). It was a wonderful moment. Story here.

Cheek was so excited and beamed after the race and during his Medal Ceremony.

In a sport usually decided by hundredths of a second, Cheek won by a commanding 0.65 seconds.

"It's miraculous,'' he said. "I'm kind of shocked that I skated that fast.''
Even more amazing, Cheek donated the $25,000 in prize money to Right to Play, which is

an athlete-driven international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play as a tool for the development of children and youth in the most disadvantaged areas of the world.
So generous.
Joey Cheek walked in with everyone expecting him to talk about winning an Olympic speedskating gold medal. Instead, he had something else on his mind.

The moderator immediately asked for questions. Cheek interrupted, explaining that he wanted to make a statement.

Did he ever.

The Olympic 500m champion declared that he was giving away his $25,000 U.S. Olympic Committee bonus for winning the event to help children in the war-torn region of Darfur in Sudan.

"I wanted to make it meaningful,'' he said. "It's empowering to think of someone else.''
Cheek challenged his sponsors to match his donation. He plans to visit the Darfur region, where some 180,000 people have died and 2 million forced to flee in a bitter conflict, and see how his money is helping.

"I have been blessed with competing in the Olympics,'' said Cheek, who recalled something his mother Chris told her two sons: "Not to have good intentions, but to do good things.''
But it gets even classier.

On 18 February, Cheek won a silver in the 1,000m. He added the $15,000 bonus money to the $25,000 for a total of $40,000.

What Cheek is really excited about is donating another $15,000 to Right To Play, a charity that helps children in Sudan. Cheek signed over the $25,000 U.S. Olympic Committee bonus he got for Monday's gold medal in the 500m to the group; he'll do the same with the silver-medal check he earned Saturday.

"I think we've had eight or nine companies or individuals match my original $25,000, and it looks like we're over a quarter of a million dollars donated -- and more keeps coming in,'' he said. "I'm much more proud of that than winning a gold medal.''
Cheek's generosity and selflessness has inspired others to donate as well.

The United States Olympic Committee is matching Joey's donation.

Clara Hughes, a speedskating Gold Medal Winner from Canada, is giving $10,000 of her own money.

Cheek’s original donation has already been matched by a number of companies and individuals, with a total of more than $390,000 pledged by the end of Saturday, the USOC said.

Canada’s Clara Hughes said she plans to donate 10,000 Canadian dollars to Right To Play. (More here, including Clara's challenge to Canadian's and the donation tally)

‘‘I wish I had an Olympic bonus to give like Joey Cheek, but I don’t,’’ Hughes said after winning the women’s 5,000 meters. So, she said, she’s decided to give the money in her bank account.
Chinese speedskating star and Bronze Medalist Yang Yang will donate $10,000 as well.

Tonight, after the closing ceremonies, Bob Costas concluded the Olympic Coverage. He mentioned that over $400,000 in donations have been made to Right to Play, inspired by Joey Cheek's generosity, and counting. This is an amazing story and certainly deserves to be told. More from Right to Play

Cheek has been asked by the founder, of Right to Play, Johann Olav Koss, who won three speed skating golds at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, to visit Zambia in April.

Cheek's money will go toward Right To Play projects in the war-torn Darfur region of the Sudan, where some 180,000 people have died and 2 million forced to flee in a bitter conflict. He also wants to visit the area, but Koss said the situation is too volatile at the moment.
And, Joey Cheek was chosen by his US Olympic teammates to carry the US Flag into the Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremonies, a great honor.

"I feel like I'm not really worthy,'' he said. "It's a wonderful honor and I'm thrilled that it happened.''
During the Closing Ceremony, after the majority of the show was over, one of the NBC reporters found Joey Cheek. He said carrying the Flag in was amazing and he felt very blessed to represent the 300 million people of the United States.

Joey Cheek is retiring after these Games. He plans to go to school and get into politics some day.

This is a Classy Olympian and a Classy man.