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Meet Winter Vinecki: 14-Year-Old Marathon Runner, Aerial Skier, & Philanthropist

Winter Vinecki is a delightful and refreshingly unusual 14-year-old, with lofty aspirations and goals. She recently set the world record for youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents, is attending high school online, and has her sights set on the U.S. National Aerial Ski team. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Winter’s time just prior to her record-breaking marathon, and we chatted about everything from her family to living away from home for months on end to Team Winter, which raises money for prostate cancer research and awareness.

Team Winter is all over the internet. Assume I don’t have access to the internet; tell me something about you that I wouldn’t know; something that makes you you, that isn’t online.

I think what most people don’t realize is, even though, you know, I have to do these adult talks and everything, I’m still a kid and I still like to do kid things. I’m kinda almost like an iguana. When I’m around adults, I can be more mature for my age, and when I’m with my brothers, I’m just a 14-year-old girl.

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Marathon #1: Eugene, OR – Winter with a Race Pacer

So you just ran marathon #6 in New Zealand?

Yeah.

Very cool. Tell me about New Zealand.

Oh, it was beautiful. We’ll definitely go back and bring my brothers, because on this marathon tour my brothers can’t go because it’s so expensive and we’re only there for five days, six days.

New Zealand was probably one of the most beautiful places. We stayed in Auckland, for a lot of the first three days maybe, and then we went to Great Barrier Island, which is just a small island that the race was gonna be on. We took a small little eight-person passenger plane over to the island. The people that live on the island did a greeting song, and it was just really cool, and I got to go do some of the things that the kids would do there, like pick loquats out of the trees and find mussels out on the rocks, so we picked some up for dinner. What else did we do? We went and climbed Memory Rock, which is just this huge rock right on the ocean. And, yeah, it was just beautiful.

The first half of the course, the race was all through the forest-y area and on trails on the forestry track, so basically you popped out at exactly 13.1 miles, and the second half was all on pavement road.

That’s a nice way to run a marathon. It’s not nearly as brutal as 26 [miles] on concrete.

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Marathon #4: Inca Trail Marathon Finish Line – First Place Female

So you have Athens last. This is all to set the world record and to raise funds for your foundation?

Yeah, after I finish Athens, I’ll hopefully be the youngest person in the world to run a marathon on all seven continents. I’ll be 14 and I-don’t-know-how-many days—my birthday is December 18th and the race is November 10th. Cutting it close by my birthday, but gonna get it done. But my main reason why I’m doing this marathon tour is in honor of my dad who passed away from prostate cancer when I was 9 years old.

I had done an Olympic-distance triathlon in Florida, actually in Walt Disney World, in the campground area. Most people said I couldn’t finish it, I was too young, so I went out there and completed it in under four hours.

That’s impressive.

And so then, you know, after my dad passed away, I was kind of looking for something new to do, something bigger and even more challenging. I was sitting on the couch looking through a book of world records and came across that record, the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents, and I immediately (snaps) just pointed to that book and told my mom, “I want that record for my dad.”

That’s fantastic.

Thank you.

I can barely do three marathons a year, I can’t image seven.

Ugh, yeah. It’s been seven in about a year and a half, I think? We started in April of 2012 for the Eugene marathon, and then Africa was later, in September of 2012. And then Antarctica I think was March. And Peru was, I believe, early June. And Mongolia wasn’t that long ago.

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Marathon #5: Mongolia

So what are you going to do next? Will you focus entirely on the Olympics and making the U.S. National Aerial Ski Team?

No, I’m still gonna do a lot of running, considering an ultra-marathon and then maybe some staged races, where you’re doing, like, a few days of a really big ultra.

And how will that fit in with the aerial training?

It actually fits in fine. My coaches don’t say anything about it. They’re just amazed I can do a full day of trainin’ and then go out and run 10 more miles. Or on our days off when most people are just sleepin’ all day, I’m doin’ a 20-mile or so. It actually works out good for both, because it strengthens my legs when I’m running, and with aerial skiing we do a lot of core training, a lot of  heavy weight stuff, so it’s just building all those muscles that are gonna help me with running. And for aerials we have to stretch every single morning. I’m not very flexible to begin with, so I have to stretch and stay loose and it helps me all around.

I think the only hard part is tryin’ to fit in the long runs, because I don’t want to be super sore the next day. When you go down the ramps you have to, like, squeeze all your muscles in your body and, oh, god, when you’ve sore legs … that’s the only tough thing.

So with aerials, it seems like gymnastics in air on skis. Is that anywhere near right?

A lot of the aerialists have a gymnastics background. And I think I was one of the few that have a downhill skiing background. I never did any, like, gymnastics or actual trampoline stuff like that before.

So I went to the recruitment camp they were having, and I was one of two people who received the scholarship for the summer training. I basically trained throughout the summer and then I decided to stick around and do it over winter. So that’s kinda how I got started with that.

Holy crap. So you’re a downhill skier, why not pursue the Olympics in downhill, since you already know how to do it?

I think, you know, so [few] downhill skiers actually make it to the Olympics, it’s so competitive. But aerial skiing, there’s not a ton of people who do it. There’s only two places in the U.S. you can train—in Park City and in Lake Placid—so there’s not a huge amount of people who do it, like there is freestyle skiing or downhill skiing. So I think you have a greater chance. But I know I just found it a little more fun and exciting, just to be able to advance and do new tricks, whereas downhill skiing you just kinda go through gates.

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Winter in 2012: Photo Credit – John Conroy

Your mom sent me some information that said you’ve just been able to do doubles?

Yeah, this summer I qualified two new tricks. To qualify you have to do a certain amount—like for doubles you have to do 125 or somethin’ like that, and for a single you have to do like 175. I learned a back full—so a back flip, you’re straight, but then add a 360 to that—I qualified that trick.

When you’re qualifying, you do five jumps and you have to land them all on your feet and [your judges] score you from your take off, your form in the air, your landing, landing position, because you always want to land a little forward, but not throwing your hands in front, and then they score you and you have to reach a certain amount of points.

Right at the last week I qualified a lay tuck double, which is a completely new ramp, the ramp is much bigger, much steeper. So you’re going off and you have to do a layout, and then when you get to about there (hand gesture), then you pull over your feet for another flip.

Is it fun?

Yeah, it’s fun, but, like, doing the first few doubles and pulls and some of the new tricks… .

Pretty scary?

It’s pretty scary, on snow. Oh, it’s so scary doing your first one on snow.

Since you now can do the doubles, you’re eligible to compete for a spot on the National Team?

Yeah. For females to be able to get on the team you have to be able to do doubles. Every year or so they add people to the team, so if you compete them on snow and you do well, there’s a good chance you can then get on the National Team, which from there you can go to the Olympics.

I hope you get that chance. So how is it living in Park City, with a host family?

You know, I’ve loved it out there. It’s hard at the same time, though, just because I’m away from my mom and three brothers, so I love being able to come back here, [Oregon], for two months and be able to spend time with them. But at the same time, I can’t be here and train for the Olympics, so it’s kind of a sacrifice I have to make.

But my host family has been amazing. You know, they take me on some of their boating trips and things like that, so it’s very nice.  It kind of makes me feel like I have a second home out there.

That’s really lucky. So, tell me about your mom.

Okay. Well, my mom is a full-time ob-gyn, so she delivers babies and takes care of women, in addition to being a full-time mom, and basically a full-time dad, now. So she does that, and then runs Team Winter. So she has a very busy schedule in addition to raising my three brothers. And she’s also an Ironman [athlete] herself, she does Ironmans and she does all of these marathons with me.

That’s amazing to have that kind of support.

Yeah, it’s, you know, I couldn’t ask for anything else. It’s a nice bonding experience to be able to do that.

You’re on the online high school. How does that work?

My program is actually through Stanford University, so it’s a very rigorous and very structured schedule. I have six classes. I have a P.E., but you kind of log all your activity credits. And then I have A.P. biology, an English course, geometry, Spanish, and history of science.

And, we still get letter grades and everything, but all of my courses are introductory-level college courses and college-level courses, so they’re very advanced, and I have certain times throughout the day, Monday through Thursday, that I have to sit down at my computer and log on to Centro, which is kind of like Skype, where you can see the instructor when you talk, your camera comes on, they can see and hear you. There’s a whiteboard you can draw on, there is text chat—it’s very interactive, basically just a classroom all through your computer.

Do you want to go to college?

Yeah, I wanna go to Stanford.

Why Stanford?

I don’t know. They have so many good sports teams. And I’ve been down to California and love it down there. And, of course, they are one of the best schools for getting education and things like that, which is very important. And the campus is amazing, you can bike everywhere you go—just so many different things. Of course you’d have to have back-up options, but that probably would be my number one choice. I’d probably wanna do something with business and philanthropy.

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Winter and her dad, Michael Vinecki

Do you ever say “I just want to go to high school, I just want to be like everybody else”?

I think sometimes, you know, I say I just wanna be a normal kid, but then at the same time I love what I’m doing, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

You have friends from school. Are there other people who are roughly your age at the training camp in Park City?

I’m basically the youngest. I mean, at Utah Olympic Park they have many different  groups and different teams that kind of train there. So I see kids younger than me, all different ages, even just the public can come in and try the jumps. But my team, I’m the youngest one, and I’m only 14. The next youngest, I believe, is 17.

That’s a huge difference.

Yeah, they’re all much older than me. But even though some of the girls are older than me, I’m always talking with them. Whether it’s just bouncing around on the trampoline or, you know, going shopping somewhere, I still kind of have that friendship, I’d guess you say.

So, where do you see Team Winter going next?

I don’t know. I think there are so many different possibilities. We just had an event in September called “Team Winter 6,” which is a virtual running race through athlete.com.  So anyone in the world could sign up, log their miles, and get people to pledge dollars per mile they run.  We raised about $30,000 just in that one event, and there was only about 100 people. And so, next year, if there is 1000 people, that’s $300,000. So, we’re definitely going to continue that event.

And one day, I hope to make Team Winter as big as foundations like the Komen Foundation.

What percentage of the dollars Team Winter raises goes towards prostate cancer research or awareness?

We kind of have two aspects of where our money goes. None of us make any money. We have a board of directors for Team Winter who all volunteer their time. And money we get from our clothing line from Team Winter all goes to helping pay for new clothing for next year to get the blue ribbon out there, for the awareness aspect.

And then we also have all the money raised from this event, from the Team Winter 6, and the money that is raised from people who put on 5Ks for Team Winter, or you know, golf outings or just raised by themselves, that goes 100% right to Team Winter, then 100% from Team Winter to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to help, um…

Fund their efforts?

Yeah. So 100% is going to prostate cancer research or awareness.

Who is your on-snow aerial idol?

Probably Emily Cook. She’s the one who introduced me to the sport, and she’s one of the oldest aerial skiers. She’s in her 30s now, and she’s still doing aerial skiing. I kind of look up to her by, you know, proving that age is just a number, not a barrier. That you can be any age and do anything you want just as long as you’re working towards your goal and working towards your dreams.

Even though I’m a big example for doing things no matter what your age is as far as [being] younger, it’s the older age group not saying “Oh, I’m too old, can’t do this anymore.”

What does 2014 hold for you?

Ummmm, well, it will be another year of high school done (fist pump in the air). And I get my permit in December, so I’ll be drivin’ in Park City in the snow on my first time. But I like being 13, 14—it’s nice.

If you had three tips to give aspiring Olympic athletes like yourself, what would they be?

Number one is to never give in. Never give in, whether it’s your schoolwork or your training.

Ummm, and don’t wait ’til tomorrow to do what you can do today, ‘cuz so many people say “Okay, maybe I’ll wait ’til next year to start training,” but you know, my dad waited to do [things] he wanted to do, but now he can’t do those things.

And then I think you need to reach for your goals, and reach for your dreams. And not only to dream, but dream big. And you know, set high expectations for yourself and take the high road in life. A lot of people take the low road, you know, just go for the easier path, just because it’s easier, and even though the harder path is gonna take a lot more effort, it will be worth it in the long run because you won’t have those regrets, like “Awww, I wonder if I could have made it to the Olympics.”

That’s pretty good advice, not just for Olympic wanna-bes, but for everybody.

Yeah.

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Web MD Health Hero of the Year: 2008

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