Kenya's 'Snow Leopard' Olympic Skier Is Using Her Platform To Save The Earth

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May. 16 2019, Updated 10:41 a.m. ET

With the Winter Olympics currently underway, the world is meeting inspiring athletes from around the world. While most Olympians instill a sense of awe as they compete at elite levels, some also use their spotlight to share important global concerns. 19-year-old alpine skier, Sabrina Wanjiku Simader is one athlete who is using her fame to shed light on a topic close to her.  

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Simader was recently appointed as the United Nation’s first Mountain Hero because of her experience with environmental issues impacting mountains. Several mountain regions are currently affected by waste, loss of biodiversity and climate change.  

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According to the UN Environment, Simader says she has already seen how the shifting climate has affected her training environment on the slopes, explaining, “Our mountains are changing due to climate change, which is causing glaciers to retreat and threatening biodiversity, including species like the iconic snow leopard. I wanted to become more engaged to protect these fragile and vulnerable regions. I train in Schladming in Austria, a region that has already witnessed the impacts of climate change, including the shifting of the ski season, which impacts winter tourism.” 

Simader is also joining the United Nations Wild for Life campaign. The organization works to end illegal wildlife trade. Celebrities who represents the campaign are matched with a “kindred species.” Simader’s designation as a snow leopard was a clear fit for the skier and matches her signature racing suit, which is covered in leopard prints.  

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Simader’s path to the Olympic stage in PyeongChang, South Korea, is a unique one. While she was born in Kenya, Simader has spent most of her life in Austria. She left Africa when she was just three years old and moved to Sankt Johann am Wimberg after her mother married an Austrian. Simader took to the slopes right away, and luckily for her, she had easy access to the mountains. Her step-father, Josef Simader, was a ski lift operator and has been her trainer ever since. 

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Like many athletes, Simader looked to her roots when deciding which country to represent at the 2018 Winter Olympics. According to the UN Environment, Simader said, “It has always been my dream to participate in the Winter Olympics and represent not only Kenya but – alongside other athletes, like those from Nigeria – our beautiful African continent. I hope I can lead by example and inspire other young Africans to also follow their dreams.”  

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The decision proved to be a historic one. Simader is the first alpine skier to represent Kenya at the Winter Olympics. In fact, out of the 12 African athletes competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, Simader is the only one representing Kenya. 

As the only Kenyan competitor, Simader was given the honor of carrying the country’s flag herself during the Olympic Games opening ceremony last week. According to The Japan Times, it was a unique experience for the teenager who said, “I was really proud. It’s cool seeing a big team like Canada in front of you. That was funny. It was emotional for me too because the world is watching. It’s a dream come true.”  

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