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Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi has authored her own success story beyond the ice

After a frustrating second-place performance at the 1991 U.S. Nationals, figure-skating legend Kristi Yamaguchi took a long drive with her training partner Kurt Browning, a Canadian world champion skater. It was the third consecutive time Yamaguchi had placed second at the U.S. Nationals, and her disappointment was clear to all who trained with her; she was miserable each day for weeks after the competition. Yamaguchi has since said that Browning changed her perspective in the car when he turned to her and said, “Don’t you know one day you will be world champion? You have to believe it.”

Browning continued to break Yamaguchi’s negative mindset by asking her why she skated and encouraging her to smile more in training. Her attitude quickly shifted to the positive, as her answer was simple: She loved to skate. Yamaguchi began to focus not so much on the end result, but instead, on the journey. Yamaguchi became a world champion that year in Munich at the World Figure Skating Championships, and went on to win the gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. She followed up her phenomenal skating routines with a second World Championship title that year.

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After her gold-medal performances at the Olympics and the World Championships, Yamaguchi became a household name and began touring the world with “Stars on Ice.” Her exposure to the Make-A-Wish Foundation through “Stars on Ice” inspired Yamaguchi to start her own foundation, the Always Dream Foundation, from which she has inspired underserved children to reach for their dreams through innovative reading programs, while also advancing the cause of early childhood literacy. This year celebrates ADF’s 20-year anniversary by supporting 64 kindergarten classrooms and more than 1,600 students. 

Kristi Yamaguchi’s latest book, “Cara’s Kindness”

Now a two-time New York Times best-selling author, Yamaguchi continues to spread her positivity to the world with her children’s books, inspired by her two children, Keara and Emma. Her first two books, “Dream Big, Little Pig!” (September 2011) and “It’s a Big World, Little Pig!” (March 2012), debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times Best Seller list and were featured on NBC’s Today Show. Her new children’s book “Cara’s Kindness” focuses on the importance of giving kindness to others. A portion of Yamaguchi’s profits from “Cara’s Kindness” will benefit the early literacy programs supported by the Always Dream Foundation. There seems to be nothing Yamaguchi can’t do, as she excels in every endeavor she puts her mind to.

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While Yamaguchi was in New York City filming for the YES Network’s CenterStage with Michael Kay—premiering on the YES Network on Tuesday, October 11 at 7 p.m. ET—she spent time catching up with Excelle Sports to discuss her remarkable career, favorite workout and future goals. Yamaguchi was humble, grounded and quick to smile as she shared stories of her incredible life.

Figure Skating: 1992 Winter Olympics: USA Kristi Yamaguchi in action during Women’s Singles Free Skating Finals at Olympic Ice Hall. Albertvile, France 2/21/1992 (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Kim Vandenberg: Do you have any interest in writing books about children and sports?

Kristi Yamaguchi: No, I have never really thought about sport-related books. In my second book, it kind of ends when she is in a competition and she is dealing with nerves and anxiety, but I have never thought about focusing just on sports. Maybe in another book!

KV: Something I have always been curious about while watching you skate growing up, when you fall, you get back up right away and you are instantly smiling, how did you train for that?

KY: From the time you are little, you understand that it is a performance sport. We were always told, ‘Don’t point out your mistakes because you don’t want the judges to focus on that. You want to erase it from their memory and you don’t want it to drag the entire performance down.’ So I was told to just get up and keep smiling. You know when you are little and you do it for years and years, it just becomes part of it.

KV: Did you play other sports growing up?

KY: Yes, when I was nine, 10 and 11, I played basketball with a church league, but I was terrible. It was more of a social thing. My dad coached, but once I started skating, that gave me the courage to say, ‘No, I didn’t want to do anything else.’ I had tried soccer and gymnastics, and none of those things interested me.

KV: Was dancing part of your training for ice skating?

KY: Not ballroom dancing, that’s for sure. I wish I had paid more attention to ice dancing because that translates a little more. I did ballet—that was more specific to ice skating, working on the upper body and turnout and flexibility.

Kristi Yamaguchi filming CenterStage with Michael Kay (Photo by E.H. Wallop)

KV: What is your favorite workout nowadays?

KY: Nowadays, I like to do this class called Barre3. It is a combination of barre, pilates and yoga. It is nice because you get some cardio, some resistance training, but a lot of focus on core, which is good. It’s fun.

KV: How can athletes be more involved in the Always Dream Foundation?

KY: Just ask! We are always looking for ambassadors to read. We have schools throughout California, Arizona and Hawaii. We do a lot of the launches of our programs in their classrooms at the beginning of the school year, and then we do graduation ceremonies at the end of the school year. Usually, I will go in or we have a volunteer go in and read to the kids because, you know, they love to be read to at the kindergarten age. We have always said we wanted to start an ambassador program.

KV: What are the other things you dream of doing moving forward?

KY: Good question. Well, hopefully a follow-up book to ‘Cara’s Kindness,’ so that’s hopefully on the back burner. Also, this past summer I was involved with a dance show. It was called Love on the Floor and it was with Cheryl Burke—who was the creator and director and she actually performed in it as well, and we did a 13-run show run in Japan. It was just an amazing experience and an amazing show. I thought it would be like Dancing with the Stars, but it actually ended up more theatrical with different types of dance. I think she is trying to do more shows, and if I can do more performances, that would be fun.

KV: Would you ever design costumes for ice skating?

KY: You know, I had an amazing costume designer, Jef Billings. He just passed away this week, so you know people have asked me, but I don’t have the official training of an actual designer. Obviously being around it, I collaborated a lot with Jef on my costumes. I don’t know, there aren’t that many costume designers in skating, so who knows.

For more on Kristi Yamaguchi, visit www.kristiyamaguchi.com and www.alwaysdream.org.

Excelle Sports associate editor Kim Vandenberg is an Olympic bronze medalist, Pan American gold medalist, World Championship silver medalist and three-time U.S. national champion and French national champion in swimming. She’s also a member of Excelle’s Athletes Council.

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