Competing at the highest level led an Olympic speedskater to a higher calling -- using sport as a tool to educate and resolve conflict, through Right To Play.
I first became involved with Right To Play (then known as Olympic Aid) in 1993 when I visited the African country of Eritrea. While there, I saw a group of young children admiring posters of war martyrs from the Eritrean civil war. Then, a team of professional cyclists -- clearly training for a race -- came speeding by. The children immediately lost interest in the posters and grew very excited, waving and cheering as these athletes rode by. In this moment, I truly realized the power of sport and the effect it could have on captivating the imagination of young people everywhere.
After this trip, at the Lillehammer Olympics, I donated the prize money from my 1500m victory to Olympic Aid and challenged my fellow countrymen to donate 10 Norwegian krowns for each gold medal won by Norway. Since Lillehammer, I've dedicated myself to growing Right To Play into an internationally recognized non-government organization (NGO) that uses specially-designed curriculum to teach children essential life skills.
Right To Play's programs use sport and play to improve health, teach basic life skills, and promote peace and conflict resolution abilities, while developing team skills, cooperation, and respect. Right To Play operates in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the world, working within the communities to understand the specific challenges they face and tailor programs to meet their needs, whether it be HIV/AIDS, hygiene, or conflict resolution.
I am lucky that I have had many people help and support me along the way. When I was little my grandmother always told me I could become anything I wanted, and that advice was invaluable to my success as a speedskater, as well as my work with Right To Play. In my work at Right To Play, I am surrounded by individuals who help me succeed on a daily basis, including the leadership team and many members of our International Board of Directors. I am also influenced daily by our incredible staff, who work in the field and make all of our programs possible!
My life has been changed dramatically since I started Right To Play. Being able to make a difference in one child's life is an incredible feeling, so I feel very fortunate that I get to be a part of an organization that is helping over 800,000 children a week all over the world. I am also able to travel the world, telling people about the importance of sport and play and educating them about Sport for Development -- which I find so rewarding.View All Stories