“Dream Big Win Big” – the golden grace of Kristi Yamaguchi
Struggles and successes of a U.S., Olympic, and World Hall of Fame figure skater, medalist, and author
SHI employees were recently treated to an inspirational hour with Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi as part of our Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month slate. The figure skating legend is a two-time world champion, the 1992 U.S. champion, a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and a “Dancing with the Stars” celebrity champion!
“It makes me so happy to see SHI support Asian-American representation and visibility, and to get a glimpse of the nuances of differences that the Asian-American population experiences from a firsthand perspective,” said Technical Recruiting Specialist Jennifer Hopper after the event. “What inspires me the most with Kristi is after her skating career she continues to challenge herself and find other areas of success.”
All that glitters is gold
Kristi began skating when she was six years old. She’d fallen in love with the dazzling costumes ice skaters would often wear, but her mother told her she needed to learn to read first – a bit of literary motivation that would play a large role in her adult life.
Kristi excelled as a young skater, and eventually partnered with Rudy Galindo for pairs competitions. In 1988 they won the pairs title at the World Junior Championship, and the duo took home national championships for senior pairs in 1989 and 1990. Kristi then decided to focus solely on singles as the 1992 Winter Olympics approached.
“A little over a year before the Olympics, I thought, ‘I’m getting there, I’m ready,’ – and didn’t perform quite as well as I wanted to at the 1991 Nationals,” Kristi recalled. While she had a decorated junior career as a pair skater, she hadn’t yet won a singles title, and this setback hit hard. “[I had to] take skating back, take ownership – and changing that perspective just a little bit helped bring that joy back. Six weeks later I won my first world title, and that really set me up for that Olympic year.”
When Kristi triumphed at the 1992 Olympics, she became the first Asian-American woman to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics in any sport. When asked about her most cherished memory in the post-victory glow, she didn’t hesitate.
“It’s hard to pass up that moment on the podium when I received the gold medal and was announced as Olympic champion for the first time,” she said, recalling her “pure elation and gratitude for everyone who helped me get where I was.”
“She’s an excellent universal role model of what it takes to succeed and thrive,” Technical Writer Michele Hope said. “I also appreciated how well Kristi could speak to her own Asian-American heritage as part of her success.”
During the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, five of the six American figure skating team members were of Asian descent, and phenom Nathan Chen became the first Asian-American man to quadruple jump his way to gold.
“[It’s a] huge honor,” Kristi said of the Asian representation on this year’s team. “It’s a sport that I love and am passionate about, and to be able to see changes in diversity and inclusion – we want to see that everywhere, and to see those changes happening in skating is so exciting.”
A passion for literacy
After the 1992 Olympics, Kristi spent ten years touring with Stars on Ice – and also wondered how she could use her platform to change lives.
“Being thrust into the spotlight and not really being prepared for it was one thing, but I was lucky to have my amazing family around me and my coaches to help keep me grounded,” she recalled. “Growing up, my parents were very involved in the community. They volunteered at school and church. After the Olympics, my mom said, ‘You’ve had so much support to achieve your dreams. What are you going to do to give back?’”
The answer began to materialize at the rink. Stars on Ice had designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a beneficiary of its tour, and being around children inspired Kristi to come up with her own way to make a difference in the lives of young people. When she learned how many American families don’t have age-appropriate books in the house to read to their kids, she found her specific calling.
Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a provider of high-quality books/e-readers and services to promote reading and facilitate familial support. The program offers a book coach who reaches out to families to offer strategies, such as comprehension questions (“What color is his jacket?”) and engagement topics (“What do you think is going to happen next?”). She has also added New York Times best-selling author to her impressive resume, having authored three popular children’s books about figure-skating animals.
Activism against Asian hate
As Kristi shared lessons from the ice and explained her passion for children’s literacy, she also discussed her experiences as an Asian-American woman. Kristi is of Japanese descent, and her then seven-year-old father and paternal grandparents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. While her maternal grandfather fought in the U.S. Army in Europe, his pregnant wife gave birth to Kristi’s mother in another camp.
Eight decades later, Kristi’s daughters inspire her to take on an activist role as Asian hate continues to fester in the United States. The teenagers manage a clothing line with a friend that sells “Stop Asian Hate” t-shirts.
“I find so much more courage and strength from my daughters,” Kristi explained. “They are very socially conscious and took part in many marches and rallies the past couple years to bring attention to issues, particularly Asian hate. As it continued, I thought, ‘I have many friends in the Asian-American community who are using their voices, and I want to join them because this is hitting close to home.’ Until there’s more education, this is going to happen, so I want to keep shining a light and make sure people are aware of what’s happening.”
Her message resonated with Operations Manager Sarah Cutrona, who said, “Because we are the largest minority and woman-owned business in the U.S., SHI is uniquely positioned to make a positive impact by embracing and showcasing cultural diversity. I hope we ride the momentum from events like this to vocally empower and embrace people of color.”
Olympic-sized life lessons
When asked about how the Olympics shaped her life, Kristi talked about setting goals. Her golden dream was years away when she first laced up a pair of skates, but by setting short-term achievable goals at every practice, the idea of winning the Olympics didn’t seem so daunting.
“You have to develop some resilience to get through things, and it’s not going to be instant,” she noted, adding that she never wanted to experience regrets about her effort, but “the prize on the other side is going to be worth it.”
“Dream Big Win Big” with Kristi Yamaguchi was presented in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by the SHI Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Committee, an affiliate of the WiSH Culture Initiative. WiSH is dedicated to progressing DEI and cultural efforts within SHI. Please reach out to WiSH@shi.com for additional details!