Ty Walker didn’t need to add one more thing to her plate.
The 2014 Olympic snowboarder and Brown University student is already training to return to the Olympic Winter Games in 2018. That alone takes up plenty of time. So when she first read that the United States Olympic Committee was looking for applicants to serve as a Young Change-Maker at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she hesitated.
By the time she learned that U.S. Ski & Snowboard wanted her to apply, however, she had already done more research into the program and liked what it stood for.
“I think trying to be a positive influence and a role model is the most important thing,” said Walker, who finished 14th in women’s slopestyle in 2014 in Sochi, where the event made its Olympic debut. “For me, it’s great to be a good athlete and a good student, but it doesn’t matter unless you’re a good person.
“When you’re in a position of relative success and are kind of on a pedestal, it’s nothing unless you’re using it in a positive way and to make a positive change. That’s probably my biggest goal in snowboarding, even more than any contest, is to encourage others to be individuals and to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.”
The Young Change-Makers Program started as the Young Ambassadors program at the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010 in Singapore, and the program is now entering its fifth cycle. Its purpose is to provide mentors who can motivate and inspire the athletes at the Youth Olympic Games to become change makers in their own communities and to ensure that the impact of the Games is felt long after the experience itself ends.
Walker will be working closely with the USOC throughout the coming year on social media projects and other ventures, as well as living with the athletes in the Youth Olympic Village during competition, getting involved with various team-building activities and acting as a resource for whatever the athletes might need during the Games.
The USOC’s Lynn Wentland, who will serve as chef de mission at the Buenos Aires Games and led the selection process for the Young Change-Maker, said Walker stood out because she spoke about encouraging athletes to experience the Games and, in particular, participating in the “Learn & Share” activities, which allows athletes to experience new skills and activities, learn about nutrition, healthy lifestyles and ethics in sports, and interact with other athletes.
“She spoke about getting athletes involved and embracing all that is offered,” Wentland said. “She sincerely and genuinely conveyed her desire to help others, and that is what being a Young Change-Maker role is — assisting others.”
The U.S. has had four individuals previously serve as Young Ambassadors, and all were employees of either the USOC or of national governing bodies. Walker is the first athlete to be picked for the position. Because of her background not only in athletics but also education, Wentland said, Walker brings a unique perspective to the role.
“She’ll be someone (the young athletes) look up to because she is a 2014 Olympian and has achieved what they aspire for while balancing college, work and community involvement,” she said.
Walker has thought about that aspect of it, too. Since not a lot of Olympic snowboarders go to college, or at least not while they’re actively competing, she can talk about balancing academics and athletics at a high level.
“A lot of times people think they have to choose one or the other,” said Walker, who is a member of the class of 2019. “Even on my team I’ve become a resource for people who say I’ve been looking at this school versus that school, and to be able to help athletes manage that and think about their options would be great.
“Then also just the injuries, the pressure of going to the Olympics. … This is going to be the biggest stage most of these athletes have competed at, so to be there and be able to help them deal with that pressure is definitely going to be valuable, I think.”
Meanwhile, Walker is in full swing trying to prepare for what she hopes will be a return trip to the Olympics in February. She spent a lot of time this summer training at Utah Olympic Park putting hours in at the gym before heading to New Zealand. The team is now in Europe for five weeks of training and it will be non-stop from now until the Olympics, Walker said.
“I think last time I was in a really good position going into it,” said Walker, who in 2015 won the very first women’s world cup big air competition – an event that makes its Olympic debut in 2018. “I won’t say there wasn’t a lot of competition, but I felt really strong and felt comfortable, whereas this time there are so many talented athletes.
“We have about six or seven real strong athletes that are going for four spots so it’s just going to be who rides the courses the best and who puts in the work on the hill in the preseason.”