She’s got an Olympic gold medal, two World Figure Skating Championships, a hot pro hockey player husband, two books and a title from Dancing With the Stars. Even twenty years after bagging the gold, Kristi Yamaguchi is still on top, balancing two kids – three-year-old Emma Yoshiko and five-year-old Keara Kiyomi – and a brand new skating special airing on NBC this November. Somehow, she also finds time to be the national spokesperson for the American Lung Association’s Faces of Influenza program. We caught up with the Olympic Hall of Famer by phone from her home in Raleigh, North Carolina to get the scoop on life off the ice. – Christina Couch
How it is possible that two decades after the Olympics, you are still raking in the awards? That’s pretty amazing.
[Laughs] I don’t know. I’ve tried to keep busy since the Olympics. I toured with Stars on Ice for ten years and have tried to stay active. I feel very lucky.
Between your work in skating and your husband’s [Bret Hedican of the Anaheim Ducks] career, you guys are such a powerhouse sports couple. Do your kids show an interest in sports? Do they have any idea they’re from a Dream Team kind of family?
I don’t think so. They’re still a little bit young. I think they both want to get out there and skate for fun and play with Mommy, but they’ve never had skating lessons yet. Who knows? My husband and I want to give them the opportunity to try other things outside the rink first and see if they go in that direction. If it’s something that they choose on their own and have a passion for, I would definitely support it. We don’t want to force them to do it or make them skate, but if they try it and say, “Hey, this is what I really want to do!” What can we do? Our parents really supported us and let us pursue our dreams. We’re just hoping to find whatever it is that drives them and support them in that.
Do you fear that your kids will feel pressure coming from two parents who are both the crème de la crème of the sports world?
They’re too young to tell at this point. To them we’re just their parents. They don’t know the difference between people who have parents who are athletes or not. They might feel the pressure when they’re older and they start to understand a little bit more about the family they have, but I’m hoping that we can give them enough confidence so that by then they can make their own decisions.
How do you and your husband do it in terms of schedule? You both have such active lives outside of your home.
It’s tough. We’re lucky that we have very supportive families. Both grandmas are ready to come in and help us whenever we need it. My husband is actually retiring this year too. It hasn’t officially been announced, but he’s retiring and I’m looking forward to having him around a lot more this year. It’s hard. You do have to juggle things around a little bit. I try not to travel unless I really have to. Typically I’m only gone one or two nights at a time and if it’s more than that, I make sure they’re with family. If they’re not with Bret, then they’re with my mom or the other grandma just so [the kids] have a little bit of consistency. Somehow, it works out.
Having family nearby has to help.
For sure. My parents are perfect role models. How they raised my brother and sister and I was incredible. I think they went above and beyond. Hopefully I can do half the things that they do.
What’s been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Oooh. Wow, I don’t know. I feel like I’m still at the beginning stages of parenting. They’re so young; I know the hardest is yet to come. I would say just trying to be involved as best I can. I’m glad I had a really busy career early on before I had children so that now I can step back and focus more on parenting and spending time with them. My mom was a stay at home mom and was there for us all the time. That’s what I would love to try to do with my kids. My greatest fear is not being there for them as much as they need us or not having that close relationship as they get older.
What’s the one major lesson you want to impart?
“I feel like a fish out of water like any parent.” It’s simple, but do unto others and you would like them to do unto you. It’s such a fast world we live in now and so much is expected of kids and they expect so much that it’s like, “You know, slow down. Listen to how you treat people and how they treat you.” All I’m really hoping for is that my children turn out to be grounded, nice people. I want them to be as well-adjusted as possible and to have a good head on their shoulders.
Having faced enormous pressure professionally, do you get worked up about silly parenting minutia or are you totally immune to that kind of thing?
No. I feel like a fish out of water like any parent when it comes to making the right decisions and hoping that you’re doing the right thing. At every stage, there’s something to be anxious about. Hopefully past experiences can help you make the best possible choices, but I don’t think there’s any easy handbook for parenting. I think it’s learning along the way and if you make the wrong decision, you learn from it. What else can you do?
Any advice for parents with high-pressure jobs?
Find something that is satisfying for you to do and make time to spend with your family. Busy as my parents were with all of us and my dad’s schedule as a dentist, we really tried to sit down for dinner together every night at six o’clock. We always had to be home for that and I think that was great to have one time during the day to all be together as a family. Growing up, it was a sense of stability. We’re trying to do that with our kids as well. With my traveling, it’s not every day, but if we’re all home we all eat together. It’s a good tradition. I think it helps you all stay connected.
So what’s next for you? You’ve already won the Olympics, authored a couple of books, won a reality show. Where do you go from here?
It’s hard to say. We have a two-hour special called Kristi Yamaguchi and Friends coming out in November. Of course we have Olympic skaters joining us and the special musical guest is going to be the Backstreet Boys. It’s going to be a really fun show and good music. After that? I don’t know. Right now, I just like having a balance between my [personal and professional] life. Both are important. If things professionally slow down, I’ll be fine with that because there’s plenty to do, but as long as I can juggle both, that’s what I’m going to do. Every year I think “Oh, in a couple years I’ll start to slow down,” but I’ve been thinking that for the past twelve years now.