Jillian Williams poses for a photo with a dog.
In honor of World Kindness Day — observed Nov. 13 every year — we asked 16 Team USA athletes to tell us the kindest thing someone has done to help them in their athletic career. From their parents to their coaches to their sponsors, see who they said, and why.
1) Danelle Umstead, Para Alpine Skiing
The kindest thing was my husband [and skiing guide] Rob giving up his career and going after my goals and my dreams and making them ours.
2) Mia Manganello, Long Track Speedskating
Hands down my parents. They dropped everything, sold everything, packed up an RV and drove me cross-country to follow this dream when I was 13 years old.
3) Caeleb Dressel, Swimming
I just show up to the pool and listen, but there is so much that goes into it. Every coach ever, starting with Coach Porter, who was my first real year-round swim coach at a small six-lane pool; my mom waking up at 4 a.m. to get me to practice when I couldn’t drive yet. I couldn’t imagine writing a practice for 70 people like Coach [Gregg] Troy does, or having to be a psychologist like Troy. When I’m being a big baby I just go sit down on his couch in his office.
4) Chris Knierim, Figure Skating
It was fun to go skate when you’re young, but there are a lot of bills that come with it. And both [mine and Alexa’s] parents have struggled financially through the beginning of our career, helping us stay on track and reach our dreams. They wouldn’t change it for the world, and we try to repay them as much as we can on and off the ice. But it’s never going to be enough.
5) Andrew Kurka, Para Alpine Skiing
There was a businessman named Carl Davies who I won’t forget. When I first started skiing, he saw the potential in me. He contacted companies on my behalf to get me sponsorship and then he represented me. It’s the reason why I’m still here today. He got me sponsors that I still have to this day, supporting me in my career. After breaking my back in Sochi and after breaking my femur, I was in a tough situation with a lot of hospital bills. My sponsors were what saved me because they kept sponsoring me, whether I could ski or not. They are the ones who keep you going.
6) Keith Gabel, Para Snowboarding
My prosthetist has been there from the very beginning. He was the guy who was like, I don’t know if this is possible but we’re going to give it a go. Jared is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. His level of dedication and devotion to me as a human being — snowboarding and athletics aside — he’s been extremely kind. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay him for what he’s done for me.
7) Brittany Bowe, Long Track Speedskating
The amount of support that has come my way is too much to even put down on paper. I guess I would have to say my coach. He sacrifices so much time and energy from his family for my teammates and I. And the past year and a half recovering from a concussion have been anything but smooth, but he’s been patient and kind with me during my rocky recovery.
8) Summer Britcher, Luge
The nicest thing was probably before a race a piece of equipment (called a face shield) that blocks the wind on our helmets broke. I was in a panic as I had to go out to the ice right then or else I was going to miss my race. One of the German girls, Natalie Geisenberger, came up and gave me a spare piece of equipment and was like, “Here, take this.” It’s the kind of thing that happens every day on my team because we’re a team, but having that support from our biggest competitors was a really cool thing.
9) Jessika Jenson, Snowboarding
In Sochi in 2014 there was a girl named Torah Bright who represented Australia. I was really nervous to hit the slopestyle course, the jumps were huge and she just brought me aside and was like, “Look, you’re a good snowboarder — you’ve just got to believe in yourself.” She showed me this little love tap where I tap on my chest and it really helps calm me. I can’t thank her enough for taking me aside and making me realize I have the ability; you just have to believe in yourself.
10) Erin Hamlin, Luge
After the 2014 Sochi Olympics my town was super excited for me. They did a parade right away and then in the spring they put on an event to celebrate my medal that was really cool. They had bands come in and speakers from local government. It was a huge event for my teeny, tiny town. They even got a big truck and built like a museum inside of all my Olympic gear that I had up to that point. It was amazing! I wanted to drive it around and share it with people, but they needed the truck back.
11) Alex Rigsby, Ice Hockey
I grew up playing on boy’s teams so having a coach who believed in me and took me on the boy’s team and gave me a chance was probably the kindest thing someone has done.
12) John Shuster, Curling
There have been so many, but honestly it was probably our junior coordinator growing up. He was at the rink every single day to open the door because we had to have a supervisor in the facility in order for us to practice. No matter what was going on in his life he was there every single day.
13) David Wise, Freestyle Skiing
The easiest thing for me to pinpoint is my parents sacrificed pretty much everything to make my career a reality. We didn’t go for a vacation and every bonus dollar that they had went into skiing when I was young. My first vacation to a sunny place in my life was with my wife after the Olympics.
14) Cullen Jones, Swimming
I’ve had some pretty impressive coaches that have been almost father figures to me, that have helped me, like David Marsh. He’s been a big piece of my life. Not only did I learn from him how to be a faster swimmer, but also how to be a better professional in all manners of life.
15) Cheta Emba, Rugby
One of my first rugby coaches made it possible for me to attend camp with the national team and helped me get started on my career to get me to where I am today. It was really above and beyond what she was already doing, and I’m forever grateful to have her support.
16) Jillian Williams, Sitting Volleyball
Being a cancer patient, there has been many acts of kindness in my life. One that I was recently reminded of was when my athletic trainer from high school/best friend surprised me with my service dog, Olive. When I was given the news about having my leg amputated, I asked my parents if we could look into getting a service dog. Something so small like that has changed my life forever. Olive goes everywhere with me. We are literally like one. When I move, she moves. If I drop something she is immediate to pick it up. I am so thankful for her.