Cross-country skier Andy Newell (L) and snowboarder Alex Deibold (R) meet with U.S. Special Climate Envoy Todd Stern on behalf of Protect Our Winters and "Athletes for Action" on April 4, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Andy Newell still lives for being outside.
He’s been wired that way since his childhood in Vermont, and that’s why the three-time Olympian is putting so much energy into protecting the environment he loves so much.
“I’ve always been pretty conscientious about the environment, but only recently have I become kind of an activist,” said Newell, who has been on the U.S. Olympic Cross-Country Skiing Team for the past three Olympic Winter Games.
|Andy Newell competes in qualification of the men's sprint at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center on Feb. 11, 2014.
Newell’s focus has often been his own individual progression as a cross-country skier, but his thoughts are much more global than ever before. Working in conjunction with Protect Our Winters (POW), Newell started the “Athletes for Action” campaign during the Sochi Games earlier this year. The intent is to help to protect the changing climate in the world.
“The reason we decided to use Athletes for Action is because it’s a great way to, No. 1, educate other athletes about climate change and some of the things they can do,” Newell said. “It’s also a great way to connect with the public.”
The climate has changed since Newell was born in Vermont in 1984, and the organizers of POW, as well as Newell, would like do their part to make a difference today on Earth Day and every other day.
Of course, there are the little things that many around the world have started doing to protect the environment — such as recycling and “going green” with fuel and other products.
Newell recognizes that, as a world-class athlete who travels around the world to compete, his carbon footprint is probably larger than most. But he also said that as athletes who train and compete outdoors every day, “We’re so in tune with the environment that I feel like it’s our responsibility to speak up.”
The POW and Athletes for Action initiatives are not so much targeted toward recycling and going green, however. They are geared towards reaching high-ranking government officials, who just might be able to help them make a bigger difference.
Prior to and during the Winter Games in Sochi, Newell rallied 105 athletes from the United States and other countries to sign a letter to world leaders, calling on them to take action on this matter.
“One of my goals this year was to help use the Olympic year as a chance to kick-start a climate change initiative,” Newell said. “Athletes for Action was a chance for Olympic athletes to sign a letter that was being sent out to the heads of government all around the world.”
Newell and the athletes are hoping to see some government action during the climate talks in Paris in 2015. What the athletes are hoping for is better decisions by world leaders.
“Really what I’d like to see, what I push for with Athletes for Action, is more in the decision-making that our politicians do. We can do a much better job of expecting more out of Washington and expecting more from world leaders.”
Using other athletes for support is important for Newell’s objective, he said.
“Climate change can be such a political issue, and it can be such a scientific issue,” he said. “I feel like when athletes can get in the middle, we can fill that transition — kind of smoothing out the science side of climate change and presenting that to the people, and also keeping the political side out of things a little bit in connecting with your average American. That was one big goal.”
Newell also hopes that through Athletes in Action, he can work with athletes from around the world, helping them to speak to their own government leaders — whether that is in Canada, China or anywhere else on the globe.
As time goes on, Newell said he would like to try to incorporate athletes from the summer Games and non-Olympic athletes, such as NFL and MLB players.
“I’d like to see it grow to where athletes from all disciplines are involved in something like Athletes for Action,” he said. “I would hope to see Athletes for Action grow to multiple countries across many disciplines and also winter and summer athletes.”
So far, things are off to a good start. Newell and fellow Olympian Alex Deibold, who earned snowboardcross bronze in Sochi, visited the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., earlier this month and spoke with Todd Stern. Appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009, Stern is the U.S. special envoy for climate change.
“Meeting with Stern was a huge step forward for us,” Newell said. “Just the fact that there are people in Washington who know what we’re doing and want to help us achieve some of these goals is a pretty big thing.”
Brian Howell is a sportswriter from Denver, Colorado. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.