Widgets Magazine

Cancer activist aims for Olympics

Even among the academically talented students of Stanford’s Online High School (OHS), 14-year-old Winter Vinecki can list some unusual accomplishments.

Alongside running her own nonprofit organization, called “Team Winter,” Vinecki is in training to become an Olympic skier and may soon be the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents. She became the youngest runner to complete the Antarctic Marathon last month, finishing in four hours and 49 minutes, and hopes to complete her quest of running marathons on every continent by November.

 

Team Winter

Vinecki started running marathons and triathlons at age five. At eight years old, she was the top fundraiser for the Iron Girl marathon, at which she competed for the cause of obesity prevention. Vinecki’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year after the Iron Girl race, and he died 10 months later.

“It was the last triathlon he ever saw me compete in,” Vinecki said. “When he passed away, I knew I could do an Olympic distance, even though people said I couldn’t. The biggest challenge was getting people to allow me into races.”

Vinecki is now a two-time IronKids triathlon national champion and has raised over $400,000 for prostate cancer research through “Team Winter,” a nonprofit devoted to raising awareness about prostate cancer that she founded in 2008.

“One in six men get prostate cancer, more than the one in eight women with breast cancer,” Vinecki said. “But people never want to talk about it, so they need a 14 year old to do it for them.”

 

Aerial skiing

Although Vinecki has garnered attention for her running times and fundraising ability, she is also a gifted aerial skier with hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in ski jumping.

Vinecki was invited to an Olympic aerial skiing recruitment camp last year by Emily Cook, a member of the U.S. national team. She recently became the youngest member of Fly Elite, an aerial skiing Olympic development team, and qualified for the 2013 Junior World Championships for aerial skiing in Italy.

Vinecki lives with a host family in Park City, Utah, and trains eight hours a day at the Utah Olympic Park. However, she said that she stays connected with her mother and three brothers, who live in Oregon.

“My mom and my brothers are my biggest supporters,” Vinecki said. “The team wouldn’t be possible without mom. She helps with every aspect of it and runs all my races with me.”

 

Participation in OHS

Vinecki enrolled at OHS two years ago, becoming too busy to go to public school but not wanting to “give up the social aspect of school” by homeschooling. OHS allows students to communicate through chat rooms and microphones and also hosts social events.

The flexibility of going to school online has allowed Vinecki to take courses while traveling around the world running races, raising funds for her foundation and giving motivational speeches at schools.

“It has been so amazing and challenging at the same time,” Vinecki said. “I never thought I’d be doing college work in ninth grade, able to work while traveling and able to stay in touch with friends who are in Germany, Singapore and all over the U.S.”

However, Vinecki admitted that it’s been “tough” balancing her athletic career with running “Team Winter” and taking classes.

“It’s definitely really challenging sometimes,” Vinecki said. “I have to make a lot of sacrifices, but I know if I save one life it will make it all worth it.”

Though Vinecki may sometimes struggle to juggle a busy schedule, her teachers credited her ability to focus on schoolwork.

“Winter participates a lot in class and is very gregarious. She is an incredibly energetic person,” said Jenny Nadaner, Vinecki’s Spanish teacher. “She makes a point of connecting to class even if she’s at the airport– she is really remarkable.”

Nadaner said that Vinecki has one of the highest grades in the class and is always “very active” in coming to extra classes and scheduling Skype meetings to review assignments.

Adam Rzepka, Vinecki’s English teacher, echoed Nadaner’s sentiments, describing Vinecki as “a wonderful student with a tremendous amount of energy.”

“We just had a service day for OHS, and she presented there,” Rzepka said. “She did great and is an amazing student.”

Though Vinecki still has several years left at OHS, she has already set her sights on one college in particular.

“Stanford University is definitely my ultimate goal,” Vinecki said.