With the Olympics just wrapping up, we got to enjoy two weeks of amazing athletic achievements, stories of defiance and more importantly, unity. It was a time of national pride and international comradery. But what many may not have realized is the extent to which these athletes contribute off the playing field and how they use their athletic gifts to draw attention to causes and organizations that matter most to them.
- Sport: Swimming
- Age: 31
- Charity/Cause: The Michael Phelps Foundation
For many Americans, Michael Phelps is not only incredibly talented, but he is the face of the American swim team. In 2008, he won eight gold medals, setting the record for winning the most gold medals in any one Olympics. In Rio, Phelps set another record by qualifying for his fifth Olympic games, which is more than any other American male swimmer. Phelps added an amazing five more gold medals and one silver to his hardware collection. Phelps has also become a role model for young swimmers around the world for how he gives back to the community. After the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps focused on building and investing in charities by founding The Michael Phelps Foundation. Focused on “promoting water-safety, healthy living and the pursuit of dreams,” it partners with Boys and Girls Club to spread the message of water safety and wellness. Additionally, in 2010, Phelps helped form the Level Field Fund, which provides funds to support uniquely talented athletes in financial need.
- Sport: Gymnastics
- Age: 20
- Charity/Cause: Right to Play and Blue Star Families
Gabby Douglas is best known for her Olympic debut in 2012 when she became the first African American woman to win the individual all-around gold medal. Lovingly referred to as “the flying squirrel,” her small but powerful frame captured the world’s heart. This year, she was one of the returning champions ready to leave her mark on the sport once again. She was a huge part of the USA Women’s gymnastics team, dominating the sport and capturing gold in the team competition. Outside the gym, Douglas’ character shines as one of the Right to Play athlete ambassadors. She also gives her time to Blue Star Families, an organization dedicated to helping military members and their families. Growing up, Douglas revealed she and her family struggled, and were even homeless at one time but “foundations and resources like this were tremendous for us.”
- Sport: Archery
- Age: 27
- Charity/Cause: Susan G. Komen
Brady Ellison is a force to be reckoned with in archery as Rio marked his third time to compete in the Olympics. Ellison was a 2011 Pan American Games gold medalist and 2012 Olympic silver medalist. As a child, Ellison battled Perthes disease, which required him to wear leg braces and thus started his passion for health-related causes. In 2010, Ellison started the Brady Ellison’s Shoot for the Cure to X-Out Breast Cancer campaign in partnership with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. For every bullseye and “10” he hits in a tournament, Ellison donates $1. Throughout his career, other partners have matched his commitment, increasing the campaign impact, and over the last six years, he has donated thousands of dollars to the cause.
- Sport: Track and Field
- Age: 30
- Charity/Cause: Right to Play, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Women’s Sports Foundation
Many people are unaware that this year was Allyson Felix’s fourth Olympics. Over the years, she has won four gold and two silver medals, making her the most decorated female athlete on the U.S. roster in Rio. Off the track, Felix participates in Project Believe, a program in which athletes undergo extra drug testing through the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to prove that athletes can win without drugs. A passionate advocate for drug-free athletics, Felix is quoted saying, “I want children to know that they can do it on their natural ability.” When Felix is not blowing past her competition, she is also actively involved in the Right to Play movement, working in disadvantaged areas to promote health, education and leadership through sports. Felix also contributes to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and Women’s Sports Foundation.
Elena Delle Donne
- Sport: Basketball
- Age: 26
- Charity/Cause: Special Olympics and Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation
Elena Delle Donne made her Olympic debut as a member of the USA Women’s Basketball team, winning gold in Rio. In 2015, she was named the WNBA MVP and the recipient of the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award. Throughout her life, Delle Donne has given up fame and success to follow her passions. After high school, she gave up a full ride scholarship to the University of Connecticut to attend the University of Delaware so she could stay close to her family and sister, Lizzie. Much of Delle Donne’s inspiration comes from Lizzie as she is blind, deaf, autistic and suffers from cerebral palsy. Delle Donne devotes much of her time to charity through her foundation, the Elena Delle Donne Charitable Foundation, in the name of Lizzie. Additionally, she actively supports the Special Olympics and opened the Delle Donne Academy basketball camp for girls.
This post was written by Samantha Masey, Saxum Intern