Golden Girl – Kristi Yamaguchi Goes from Olympian to Designer

It takes an Olympian’s prowess to continually raise the bar on success. Long after she stepped off the ice as a gold medalist in the 1992 Olympics, Kristi Yamaguchi has stretched her career to new heights. Her motto is “dream big,” a mindset that’s enabled her to pen books, star in an annual TV special, establish a non-profit foundation for children’s charities and conquer the floor on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

And now, she’s adding clothing designer to her dossier.

Tsu•Ya by Kristi Yamaguchi is slated to launch in Fall 2012 and is aptly inspired by an active lifestyle, something that is central to Yamaguchi’s own life. Tsu-Ya (Yamaguchi’s grandmother’s maiden name) will express the significance of physical activity to a woman’s lifestyle—from an Olympian’s perspective. “I love the designs,” Yamaguchi said. “I thought it would be fun to take on because being active has been so important in my life.” While most equate Yamaguchi with activewear of a different kind—that more closely related to sparkling costumes on the ice—all signs point to the line’s success. When it comes to Yamaguchi’s unparalleled success on the ice, it was something she knew she wanted to do from an early age.

“Really from the time I was six, I [asked] my parents to take me ice skating and loved it right away,” she said. “We had gone to a local ice show and I’d seen the skating and the music and the costumes and really wanted to try it.” The rest, we know, is history.

Prior to becoming the first Japanese American to win the Olympic gold, Yamaguchi won the 1992 World Figure Skating Championships and the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the same year; a Stars on Ice tour and Hall of Fame status followed. The discipline and rigor of her skating career taught her valuable life lessons early on.

 “Performing is another side of skating that I loved and there was definitely an artistic side to all of that.”

“It influenced me a lot in learning a work ethic and how to set goals, be focused, and try to accomplish them while overcoming obstacles,” said Yamaguchi, who is married to former NHL player Bret Hedican.

In 1996, Yamaguchi founded the Always Dream Foundation, a non-profit created to support organizations that have a positive effect on children. The foundation is Yamaguchi’s proudest accomplishment.

“It’s something I created hoping to leave something behind that will have a lasting, positive impact on our community,” she said. Now in her early 40s, Yamaguchi is dedicated to her family and fulfilling the foundation’s objectives, which include everything from providing computers to cash-strapped after-school programs to unveiling a neighborhood playground for children of all abilities.

At home, her extended family and two daughters, Keara, 8, and Emma, 6, help put her success in perspective.

“My parents, brother and sisters never treated me any different than who I was—the sister and the daughter,” she said. “And obviously, being a mom is very humbling. You learn your limitations and appreciate everything in life. I’m fortunate for the way things have gone so far.”

But don’t count Yamaguchi out of the competitive sphere just yet. We’d be willing to bet she isn’t through breaking records—or exploring hidden talents. Reality show enthusiasts remember her victory on the sixth season of Dancing with the Stars in 2008, when the skating star won over America yet again, beating out contenders like Jason Taylor and Cristian de la Fuente and becoming the first woman since Dancing With the Stars’ first season to win the trophy.

Yamaguchi attributes her skating background as a major factor in her victory.

 Tsu•Ya by Kristi Yamaguchi is slated to launch in Fall 2012 and is aptly inspired by an active lifestyle, something that is central to Yamaguchi’s own life.

“I think a lot of the characteristics that athletes have lend themselves to being competitive—knowing our bodies and how to push them, being mentally and physically prepared for competition and game time, and handling pressure,” she said. “Performing is another side of skating that I loved and there was definitely an artistic side to all of that.”

Off the ice (and dance floor) for some time now, Yamaguchi embodies the voice of encouragement, inspiring a new generation of skaters.

“I’m very close to what’s going on in the skating world, lending my support wherever I can and cheering on new skaters,” she said.

According to Yamaguchi, there’s always a way to help someone else, no matter what your background, education or economic situation. The first place to start is with your interests or passions. For Yamaguchi, this meant volunteering at her daughters’ schools and reading to her girls every night. Thus, releasing her first children’s book, “Dream Big, Little Pig!” was a natural step for her in 2011, and the book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. The book’s follow-up, “It’s a Big World, Little Pig!” was released March 6. Yamaguchi’s portion of the second book’s proceeds will benefit the Always Dream Foundation.

Earlier this year, Yamaguchi celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of her major career highlights as a professional skater—earning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville. As only the 10th skater in any event to earn an Olympic gold at that time, this firmly cemented Yamaguchi’s status of skating royalty.

It seems a love for the ice runs in the family. Emma, Yamaguchi’s youngest daughter, is currently taking skating lessons, coached by none other than Yamaguchi’s former skating partner, Rudy Galindo. With a wonder woman-esque mom like Yamaguchi, we’re betting this is one aspiring skater who will be a complete success—either on the ice or off.