By the time she was 14 years old, Winter Vinecki had run marathons on all seven continents, making her the youngest person in the world to ever do so.
Now Vinecki, who turns 23 this week, is preparing for another milestone — competing at her first Olympic Games — and along the way, she's been able to raise more than half a million dollars for prostate cancer research. In this week's episode of the "My New Favorite Olympian" podcast, Vinecki discussed her athletic accomplishments and how she's used them for a charitable cause.
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Vinecki was just 9 years old when her father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. By this time, she had fully developed a love for running and had graduated from 5K runs to Olympic-distance triathlons. She'd been planning to use her races as a way to raise money — originally she wanted to do it to fight childhood obesity — but quickly shifted her focus to do something that could help her dad and other people facing the same diagnosis.
According to her mother, Dawn Estelle, Vinecki wanted to make sure people knew about the disease. "It's more common than breast cancer, and men don't want to talk about it," Estelle said. "So this 9-year-old girl is going to talk about prostate cancer, and Team Winter is going to be about raising money and awareness for prostate cancer."
When Team Winter was formed, Vinecki was traveling all over the country to race, often donating her trophies to people affected by prostate cancer as a way to show them that someone was out there thinking about them. She also gave speeches at major events like the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s annual fundraising gala.
Within a year, Team Winter had raised more than $100,000. She was becoming quite the accomplished athlete too – she won her first Ironkids national triathlon title at age 11.
Vinecki began to garner attention, and after being honored with an award from the Women's Sports Foundation in 2011, she was approached by U.S. aerial skier Emily Cook, who invited her to Park City to try out the sport. That led to Vinecki moving out there full-time to train and compete in aerials. (It was during this time that she also made history with her marathons on every continent.)
In January, Vinecki won her first aerials World Cup competition. She's on track to qualify for the 2022 Games, which would make her the first Winter Olympian with the first name "Winter," but she's competing for a cause greater than herself as she continues to honor her late father.
"Winter doesn't do anything for herself. That's what's truly amazing," her mother said. "All of the Ironkids triathlon titles and national championships, all the speaking engagements that she does, her dream to get to the Olympics and to stand on Olympic podium, is for her dad and the men affected by prostate cancer and their families. It's never about her. It's about saving lives and helping other families."
For the full story, listen to the podcast above. "My New Favorite Olympian" is the fourth season of the Sports Uncovered podcast from NBC Sports. New episodes drop every Wednesday and will introduce you to the most inspiring members of Team USA and the issues they champion. The series is hosted by eight-time Winter Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo.