Always Keep Dreaming: Interview With Kristi Yamaguchi
The 1992 gold medalist talks about mentoring, partnering with Team Kellogg's, and supporting U.S. athletes for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
In preparation for the Winter Olympics in February 2014, Kellogg's is sponsoring national athletes and continuing to support Team Kellogg's, a group of former Olympians who will be traveling around the country to increase awareness of the Sochi Olympics and Team USA. Co-leading Team Kellogg's is Kristi Yamaguchi, who won the 1992 gold medal in figure skating and who is now the mom of two daughters (ages 7 and 9). Kristi recently sat down to chat with Parents.com about what she's anticipating for the games, how she encourages her kids to be active, and what she misses most about competing professionally. Follow the athletes and see behind-the-scenes Olympic preparations on Facebook (facebook.com/kelloggs) and Twitter (@Kelloggs_US).
Tell me about your partnership with Team Kellogg's. How did you get involved?
Team Kellogg's is a group of athletes gearing up for the countdown to the Sochi [Olympic] Games in a year. I was excited to be asked to be involved and co-captain the team along with Jim Craig, a 1980 Olympic gold medalist for the men's hockey team. Together we're hoping to have a positive impact on these athletes who are going for their dreams in Sochi.
What events will you be participating in this year as part of Team Kellogg's?
We're still working out the details of some of the things we'll be doing...plans to go to some Kellogg's sites and get everyone excited about the Olympics, and get the word out about how important it is to have Olympic sponsors like Kellogg's support our U.S. athletes.
What are you looking forward to most for the Winter Olympics?
Everything. Of course, skating is my wheelhouse, but it's also a time when I enjoy seeing the other sports that you just see every four years when the Olympics comes around. I always loved speed skating and cheering [the skaters] on. I think snowboarding and some of the newer sports are exciting to watch as well.
Any athletes you're rooting for to go to the Olympics?
It's fun to watch Gretchen Bleiler in snowboarding go for her dreams, and there are a couple of Paralympians as well -- Amy Purdy, who's snowboarding in the Paralympics, and Health Calhoun, who is an alpine skier in the Paralympics. We're connected with this team, so we cheer each other on.
Now that you've retired as a professional skater, what do you miss about the sport? What will you always love about it?
There's so much I love about skating. I'm still a huge fan of watching it. I think [I miss] having been at the top level, being able to skate and perform, and feeling the exhilaration of having completed certain elements and combining [them in a] performance for the audience.
What are some things you feel have changed about the competitive figure skating for women through the years? What has gotten harder or easier?
The most drastic change is the scoring system, the way it's judged. The 6.0 system was probably more forgiving, I think, than this new, current system. The system right now is all about building points, and the most points wins. It's more of a strategic math game, almost. So it's changed the style of skating a little bit; that's probably the most drastic difference.
Are your own daughters interested in pursuing the same path you did, in figure skating?
It's hard to say. My 9-year-old [is] definitely not; she wants to pursue other things. But the 7-year-old is skating at such a beginner level, so I have no idea if she's going to take it seriously eventually or if it's just recreational. It's fine if it is; I think there's still a lot you can get out of the sport recreationally.
How do you and your husband inspire your two daughters to stay active? What are some favorite family activities or traditions?
We like to do a lot of things. We've exposed them to a lot of different sports to see what path they might want to choose, so they have their own sports. But we skate and ride bikes as a family; we try to get outdoors as much as possible. When [my kids] were little, we would go on hikes around the neighborhood and point out the different things for them to look for, so that was always an adventure.
"Don't Be Afraid to Dream," Kristi Yamaguchi Says
Young girls can struggle with body image, particularly in the sports arena. How do you teach your daughters about maintaining a healthy body image and a healthy lifestyle?
I think it's important at any age. It's just always encouraging healthy eating and nutrition as much as possible and trying to be an example myself because that's what [young kids] see. Just being athletes, my husband and I try not to make it about weight or size but how good you feel. It's important that they eat properly and feel strong and energized for whatever they're taking on.
Do you have advice for kids interested in taking the professional sports path?
Set goals for yourself; that will make your path clear, and what you need to do to accomplish [those goals]. Keep believing in yourself, and if it's something [you]really love, don't be afraid to put the hard work in because that's what it will take.
What advice would you give to parents who may have sports-shy or sports-averse kids? What can they do to inspire their kids?
I think we've actually experienced that with our older daughter. I think doing activities that some friends are participating in helps break the ice a little bit. If they're shy or scared about trying something new, we found that that helped with [our daughter]. Encourage them and say, "Give it a try." If you don't try it, how do you know if you're going to like it or not? Keep an open mind.
On your website, your motto is "Always dream." How have you inspired young athletes, particularly young girls, through the years? What's one piece of advice you've received that you've passed down to them?
I think it's not being afraid to dream. Whatever it is you choose to do, whether in sports or in school or in music, it's okay to have a dream and aspire to do something and go for it. You don't want to have any regrets as you grow up, and I appreciate that more and more as I get older. You don't want to look back and say, "Oh, I wish I had done this."
Do you have any regrets in your life?
No, I don't think so. I feel lucky and fortunate the way things turned out. I'd do it all over again, for sure. I think I'm lucky to be able to look back and say that.
Is there advice you didn't receive that you wish you had? Or things you didn't know that you wish you had known?
I would say take in and really appreciate the process. There are times when I did, but there were times that were not so easy, and I didn't want to get up and go to the rink, and I was cold and tired and achy. But my last couple years of competing, I found a way to enjoy my time on the ice again, which is key. There are times on the up-and-down road as an athlete [when] you have to be okay with long-term goals and be patient seeing things come to fruition.
Do you have any upcoming projects with the Always Dream Foundation? Any other children's books or projects in the works?
I'm working on a third children's book. It's a whole new concept, whole new characters, so hopefully we're looking at a January 2014 release. [With the] foundation, we've launched two new reading programs within the last year, in California, and we're planning on expansion in the fall. So we're busy with those programs and with Team Kellogg's and that whole road leading up to Sochi. It's an exciting time. It's fun to see the journey [the athletes] go through and be inspired by what they represent.
Photo Credit: Headshot by Blake Little. Skating shot from Getty Images.
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