Kristi Yamaguchi was the face of the 1992 Olympics, wowing the world with her beauty and athleticism on ice and bringing home a gold medal.Nearly 20 years later, she’s still an icon, whether for winning ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2008 or landing on the New York Times’ Best Seller List for her new children’s book “Dream Big, Little Pig!”
But her proudest role to date is mom to Keara, 7, and Emma, 5, with husband and former ice hockey player Bret Hedican.
On a stop in Chicago to promote her book at the Skating in the Sky rink in the John Hancock Observatory, Kristi sat down to talk to ChicagoParent about being a mom, trying new things and the importance of early literacy.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I’ve always kind of wanted to do a children’s book; it’s always been at the back of my mind. Having my own [kids] and kind of seeing how important reading is to them and how they love their books … I thought, now is the time to do a book for them. They inspired me. I [wanted] a positive message in the book, something that can resonate with kids. I was grasping from my own experiences and putting all the ideas together. It’s not really about me, but I think it’s about some of the life lessons that I learned.
What do you want kids to get from this story?
I would say keep dreaming. Dream big. It’s about persistence and continuing to find what your passion is in life, and then putting your all into it. It’s pretty simple.
You’ve tried many new things in your life – why?
Obviously I’m not skating so much anymore, and I’m just always looking for the next challenge. It’s easy to kind of sit back, and I did for the first few years that my girls were born. I just wanted to be a mom and concentrate on that. But now they’re in school, and I think there’s always something fun to look forward to and to challenge yourself with. I believe in that and keeping motivated and inspired.
How has becoming a mom changed how you look at things?
When you have kids, you just all the sudden realize how precious life is and you become a little more cautious of the things you do. I’ll still go on rollercoasters and stuff, but I’m not going to parachute or do some more daring things I thought would be fun when I was younger.
I was never really great with kids before I was a mom. I loved kids, but it’s not like I could relate to them. I think it’s shocking how all the sudden you’re a mom and that maternal instinct – for me, anyway – just kicks in. You feel like you’re the only one who knows what’s best for your own child. And you completely embrace the whole, “I’d do anything for my children and for them to be happy.”
How much skating do you do now?
My girls are learning how to skate. So every now and then, my husband and I will get on the ice and just kind of skate around with them. It’s more of a fun thing. I think they could probably care less, but my husband and I are like, “No they have to learn how to skate, at least for fun.” It’s kind of a skating family. But yeah, I haven’t really skated skated in a long time. I still get asked to do shows and stuff… It’s hard to dedicate the time and find a consistent schedule where I can actually train.
Do your daughters know that you and your husband are well-known?
The little one’s just kind of starting to grasp, like “Why do people know you? What’s ‘famous,’ Mom? Are you famous?” So it’s just kind of saying, “Well, I competed at the Olympics and a lot of people watched the Olympics, so that’s why they know me.” So she’s kind of trying to figure it out a little bit.
Do you find that little ones tend to know who you are?
I think ones that have watched Dancing with the Stars know. I’ve gone to many schools, and it’s funny because the principal or librarian has usually showed them YouTube. It’s like teenagers, too, will come up, and I’m like “You were not even born yet when I won!”
Tell us about your Always Dream Foundation
We’re in our 15
year now of continual giving. It’s something I would love to be able to continue to build and grow. Hopefully it’s still there when I’m not around, and something my children can take pride in and be a part of as well.
For the last 15 years, it was focused on children and organizations that have a positive effect on their lives. We’ve always supported some of the smaller groups under the radar that don’t get a lot of funding. Now we’re kind of switching gears a little bit and focusing on education. We’re turning toward early literacy. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go toward our literacy initiative, wanting to reach those underserved communities, children that don’t have access to a library or books at home.
Was reading something that was important to you as a child?
I definitely remember having books around and having my favorite books. [Literacy is] the foundation for success, not only in school, but in life. Some of the statistics out there are pretty staggering; by the 3rd grade, if you’re not reading at grade level, that’s going to say a lot about the rest of your school career. That’s why we’re targeting the younger grades, just to nip it in the bud.