NEW YORK -- Meryl Davis and Charlie White have lived in Michigan their entire lives, but last week, they were Yankees. At least for one night.
The 2014 Olympic gold medalists were surrounded by current and past athletes from the New York Yankees and New York Giants at the 35th Annual Thurman Munson Awards — which honor the late Yankees captain — on Feb. 3 in New York City, where they were celebrated for their success on the field of play and philanthropic efforts off the field.
“We’re from Detroit, but tonight I think that we’re all Yankees, and that’s a really special feeling for me,” White said in their acceptance speech in front of nearly 400 attendees. “At heart I’m really competitive, so I’m going to enjoy the idea of being a Yankee for the night.”
|Meryl Davis and Charlie White pose for a photo prior to the 35th Annual Thurman Munson Awards in New York on Feb. 3, 2015.|
Davis and White were the only Olympians on the list of 2015 honorees, which included Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams, Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances, New York Mets centerfielder Mookie Wilson and Giants punter Steve Weatherford.
While the honorees’ accomplishments ranged from Olympic medals to Super Bowl rings, World Series pendants to all-star appearances, there was a distinct commonality among the group: big hearts and a desire to give back.
“We all have one unifying factor and that is to live fuller and richer lives — lives with substance and days we can look back on with feelings of accomplishment and pride,” White said. “Becoming Olympic champions was an amazing feeling, but it was just the first step in our lives and we are truly capable of so much, all of us, and it is our obligation as humans to help each other.”
One of the skaters’ most direct ways of helping others is through their roles as athlete mentors for Classroom Champions, which was founded by Olympic bobsled champion Steve Mesler and his sister to connect students in high-needs schools with top-performing athletes in order to motivate them to recognize their potential and dream big.
Now in their third year with Classroom Champions, Davis and White create monthly videos for the four classes they mentor in Michigan, New York and Ohio. They use their experience from the ice and their personal lives to help students take steps to set goals, become better friends, play fair, persevere and become leaders, among other lessons. They also Skype with their classrooms on occasion and have met two classes in person.
“It’s an amazing program,” Davis said. “To see the connection that the kids make and that they really feel like they know us makes our message from month to month that much more powerful. I think they feel like they’ve created a relationship with us, and so it’s really our honor to see that reflected in their faces.”
Giving back is not a new concept to the three-time Olympic medalists. Davis and White have supported countless charities throughout their 17-year ice-dancing career, including Make-A-Wish, Ronald McDonald House Charities, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Humane Society, Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and The Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative.
Whether they are skating in a charity show, mentoring students or speaking to the next generation of U.S. figure skaters, Davis and White always taken pride in representing figure skating, Team USA and the Olympic Movement wherever they go, which has led them to become the world-class ambassadors they are today.
And it is a role the do not take lightly.
“As Olympians, we all take on the task of representing our country at the Games and representing our country abroad,” Davis said. “It’s an important concept that we continue to represent the best of our country once we come home.
“Our country looks to Olympians during the Games to be their representatives and it’s a really cool feeling to have that and appreciate that, so I think coming home we take that same role very seriously.”
White says it is a notion that developed from the way their parents raised them as well as the many Olympians they had as role models in their lives while growing up at the Detroit Skating Club.
“We continue to try to make the most of the influence we have and it makes life fun,” White said. “Getting to come to these events and meet the special people who work so hard to put them together and also make a difference is invigorating and exciting for us.”
Attending the Thurman Munson Awards wasn’t their only source of excitement during their brief New York City visit. The night before, Davis and White joined their agent for dinner at Ralph Lauren’s first New York City restaurant, The Polo Bar, where they ran into none other than Ralph Lauren and his son David. The Laurens took the time to speak to Davis and White and tell them how much they enjoyed their Olympic performances.
It reminded Davis and White of their first encounter with Ralph Lauren, which they recall as one of their most memorable experiences after the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“We were sponsored by Ralph Lauren at the time and Mr. Lauren invited us into his office and gave us a tour of the headquarters,” Davis said. “He really spent a lot of time with us and we really appreciate his genuine interest in speaking with us. He could be speaking to anyone he wanted to and him taking the time to speak with us is really special.”
Meeting Ralph Lauren is only one of the many unique experiences the two have had since Sochi. Between a whirlwind media tour, competing on “Dancing with the Stars” for three months while touring the country with Stars on Ice, vacationing in Hawaii, getting engaged for White, being honored at a University of Michigan football game, appearing in a Thanksgiving Day parade, performing in more skating and dancing shows, touring Japan for Stars on Ice, commentating at figure skating competitions, attending Sundance Film Festival with Visa and much, much more, it’s hard to believe that it has only been a year since they became the first Americans to win Olympic ice dance gold.
Yet for Davis, it somehow feels like much less.
“Training all those years leading into the Olympics, it’s such a regimented schedule and time passes steadily, but because our lives are so irregular now and every day is so different, I think the passage of time has felt a lot faster,” Davis said. “Honestly it feels like maybe three or four months has passed and it’s hard to believe that it’s been a year.”
And what a year it’s been.