Gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi on being a role model for her daughters—and the world.
It’s been more than 20 years since Kristi Yamaguchi skated to the top of the Olympic podium at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. “I haven’t watched the footage that often, but when I do, those emotions come back instantly,” she says.
These days Kristi, 42, keeps busy with daughters Keara, 10, and Emma, 8; and her Always Dream Foundation. Still, she remains active in both the Olympic and figure skating communities. This month, she’ll travel to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where she’ll interview athletes and post social media updates at TeamUSA.org. The skaters to watch: the United States’ own Ashley Wagner, Canada’s Patrick Chan, defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan.
We spoke with the gold medalist about life (and fitness) after competition, raising healthy girls, and why she still hits the ice now and then.
Spry: What’s your favorite memory from the Olympics?
Kristi: My first practice on the Olympic rink, skating over the rings painted on the ice—it was pure elation. Obviously, standing on the podium was a highlight! I remember trying to find my family in the audience. Also, the Opening Ceremonies—that’s when it hits you how incredible the Olympics are. You meet so many athletes who are the best in the world.
Spry: Is it true you met your husband, Bret Hedican, there?
Kristi: Yes, [1992 bronze medalist] Nancy Kerrigan and I met the U.S. men’s hockey team, which he was on, and took some pictures. Three years later, I met Bret and realized, “You were in those pictures!”
Spry: What does it mean to be an Olympic champion—then and now?
Kristi: It’s an honor to have been an Olympian, to represent the United States, and you do feel that you’re out there as a role model. Initially, I was a little intimidated and I didn’t know how to handle it. But I think you find your stride. You learn what’s important in your life and try to portray that, and be a positive message.
Spry: Have you ever thought about what other Olympic sport you might try?
Kristi: Probably track and field, because of my stamina. Doctors used to tell me I could be a marathoner, but I’ve never been a runner.
Spry: How do you stay fit?
Kristi: My younger daughter skates, so if I’m at the rink with her I’ll strap the skates on to get my heart rate going. No jumping, though! I also do weights, and the stationary bike or elliptical.
Spry: After being a competitive athlete, is it hard to get motivated to work out now that you’re not training?
Kristi: Absolutely. My husband is a former pro hockey player, so we’re in the same boat. We try to encourage each other. It is hard when you don’t have a goal or specific benchmarks you’re trying to meet as an athlete, but I just feel better and have more energy when I do.
Spry: Is there a healthy habit you’ve carried over from training?
Kristi: Breakfast was always very important, because I did the bulk of my training in the morning. So my mom always made sure I didn’t start out on an empty stomach. I think it’s a meal that’s especially important for kids.
Spry: Any favorite healthy snacks?
Kristi: Fresh fruit. Hummus with cut-up vegetables. The kids like a banana boat, where you slice a banana down the middle and fill it with Greek yogurt or peanut butter, and then top it with cereal or nuts.
Spry: What inspired you to start a children’s charity called the Always Dream Foundation?
Kristi: I was inspired by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, who I worked with after the Olympics. The last two years, we’ve turned our focus onto early childhood literacy, launching reading programs and bringing technology into 12 California schools. With two kids in public school now, it hit close to home for me.
Spry: Do you want Emma to follow in your footsteps as a competitive skater?
Kristi: I try to keep the ball in her court. She approached me about skating more after we had both girls take group skate lessons. She’s been working with a coach for about two years now and practices twice a week. If she decides it’s her passion, of course I’ll support her. But it’s still just fun for her, and I’m OK with that, because I know what it takes.