BEAVER CREEK, Colorado - Life as a professional snowboarder can be tough work, but on days like Saturday as Olympian Gretchen Bleiler spent the day with SOS Outreach students at Beaver Creek, the work was fun and rewarding.
Bleiler, an Aspen resident with a long list of snowboarding accolades, spent the day as a mentor to young SOS students. She learned about the organization and fell in love with it because it's doing "amazing things," she said.
"This is another amazing organization that I'd like to try to get more involved with whenever I can," Bleiler said.
SOS Outreach teaches children about core values - courage, integrity, compassion, discipline and wisdom - and incorporates the lessons into various workshops and through snowboarding and other recreation. Saturday's core value was compassion.
"It's such a cool thing to have something to be thinking about during the day while we're up riding," Bleiler said.
Bleiler is a passionate do-gooder. She travels the world with a hectic snowboarding schedule. She even has a clothing line with Oakley, and she works with other nonprofits such as Save Our Winters, managing to fit it all in because she believes in making things right in the world.
SOS Founder and Director Arn Menconi said Bleiler is one of the top role models and inspirations within the snowboarding industry.
"She has professionalism; she's always smiling," Menconi said. "It's hard to find people with schedules like hers who are willing to go out there and make a difference."
As the day of snowboarding ended around 1 p.m., the group of more than 100 students gathered around in a "circle of love." Menconi ran around the circle giving everyone high-fives. It's obvious to see why these kids love the program so much - Menconi's energy and passion are contagious.
"There's a lot of energy here; it's fun," said junior sherpa Kevin Rodriguez, 15.
Rodriguez was excited because he got the chance to meet Bleiler and talk to her.
"She's so chill about everything; she's cool," Rodriguez said. "She's fun to be with."
Bleiler gave SOS students some snowboarding pointers, too, which they were pretty excited about. Jairo Morales, 16, said she gave him tips on how to improve his riding - tips that he welcomed from a professional snowboarder like Bleiler.
And while snowboarding was what brought them all together, it was the compassion and the other core values that SOS teaches that made the day special.
Bleiler had role models and mentors when she was younger because she had three brothers. They played sports together, and it's because of her brothers that she got into snowboarding, she said. She jokes because now she's the one in the family who has made a career out of it, and her brothers often tell her that maybe they should have stayed with it, too.
SOS is also a program about mentors and positive role models - it's something Bleiler hopes she became for these kids on Saturday.
"Having role models and mentors is so important in life - people you can look up to and people who are positive and inspire you to live your dreams," she said.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.