NEW YORK - When Ice Theatre of New York honors Kristi Yamaguchi on Oct. 15, it will be for a whole lot more than her performances as a figure skater.
Her on-ice resume is superb, of course, including the 1992 Albertville Olympic championship, followed by a starring role in the highly successful Stars on Ice tour. Her work away from the rink has been exemplary, particularly Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation that for the past seven years has fought child illiteracy.
“It is crazy that one in four kids grows up not knowing how to read,” Yamaguchi says. “This is a fixable problem.
“I think being able to chase my dreams and have the support I did from family and community, I was so lucky and so fortunate. Once I was able to achieve certain success, I really wanted to share this with other people. Maybe we can be that support that someone needs, and with the Always Dream Foundation, that was the inspiration behind it, to help underserved children. Many of them have no books in their homes. We are providing that access and making sure they have the potential to develop that love of books that will help them in school and beyond that.”
Yamaguchi believes the discipline she learned and artistry she developed as a champion skater can also be created through reading. But children need to be presented the opportunity to do so. The foundation began 22 years ago, and in the past seven years, the reading program has aided more than 10,000 students.
“Competitions and winning is really great and wonderful and what a lot of skaters work for,” says Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and a mentor and close friend to Yamaguchi through the decades. “I guess it is what you become from that or after that, that is truly your place in history, in society, as a representative and ambassador of the sport. I don’t know anyone that has done it better.”
And that’s exactly why ITNY has chosen Yamaguchi for its 2018 honor. Part of the organization’s mission is to keep alive the legacies of great historical figures from the figure skating world.
“Every year ITNY honors someone who is accomplished within our ice dance world, and who has stayed connected to the field beyond their own performances,” says Moira North, founder and artistic director of Ice Theatre of New York. “Someone who has given back to figure skating and has been a role model for others both on and off the ice.
“Kristi is the epitome of this person, not only because she was national, world and Olympic champion and winner of ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ but also because she is a successful wife, mother, author, and humanitarian.”
Hamilton remembers his first encounter with Yamaguchi, who was 8 years old at the time. He already was an established star in the sport when the national championships came to San Diego, and Californians Yamaguchi and her mother attended.
“She had some flowers and her mom said to give some to the skaters and she handed me a rose,” Hamilton recalls with a chuckle. “I said, ‘For me, this is for me?’ She just blushed. But you know first impressions of a kid last the longest.
“Years later, she was competing and getting ready for Albertville, and we were covering it. I was practicing in the practice rink there because I was still touring. I’m out there by myself, and she came over to the boards and had a flower in her hand and threw it on the ice. A homage to that first time we met.”
They will meet once more at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in New York City for an ITNY presentation and then the awards ceremony and gala. The Theatre also will have performances on Oct. 12 and 13.
Yamaguchi notes she wishes she got to New York more often to see ITNY productions.
“This is a big honor because of what they stand for,” she says. “Skating would die without the artistic and theatrical side to it. To have a place where skaters can go and really explore that and develop that, and we can still offer that to the skating fan, the work they do is incredible not just performance-wise, also in the community.”