Back in June, Joey Cheek spent the weekend of his 30th birthday with a rumbling stomach. The 2006 Olympic speedskating champ was participating in a fasting chain, started by actress Mia Farrow, in solidarity with the starving people in Darfur. Cheek, who had been involved in the cause for several years and had visited refugee camps in Chad, had never before gone more than a few waking hours without eating. "It's a valuable thing to experience what people who aren't as fortunate as we are experience every day," he says.
Now that he's retired from competition and a junior at Princeton, Cheek's life is a far cry from that of the athlete whose daily routine involved consuming 5,000 calories and training for hours on the ice. Cheek spends most of his time in economics and Chinese classes (he is conversational in Mandarin) and campaigning on behalf of international humanitarian issues. After donating his Turin medal winnings ($25,000) to Right to Play, a youth sports organization, Cheek cofounded Team Darfur, a worldwide coalition of athletes dedicated to promoting awareness of, and ending, the bloodshed in the Sudanese region. "Athletes reach a community that otherwise might not be interested in an issue that has political connotations," he says. "It's hard to live that life and not realize there's much more than just what happens in our own backyard."