Keara, Kristy and Emma at Rockefeller Center – Courtesy Kristi Yamaguchi
Can it really be 20 years since Kristi Yamaguchi won an Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating?
“I know!” the ever-youthful looking Yamaguchi, now 40, tells PEOPLE with a laugh.
“It’s hard to believe, but 1992 in Albertville was a big deal because not only was it the Olympics, but that’s where my husband (Bret Hedican, who played for the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team) and I met.”
Since becoming the first Asian-American to win gold in the ladies single category on Feb. 21, 1992, Yamaguchi has gone on to become a fitness advocate, a Dancing with the Stars champion and children’s author.
Her debut, 2011’s Dream Big, Little Pig, made the New York Times best seller list. Next month the sequel, It’s a Big World, Little Pig, will be released.
The new book “is a continuation of Poppy the Pig’s story,” Yamaguchi explains. “She experiences her first international travel and is anxious about traveling outside of her country, and also worried about meeting friends that are different from her. It’s all about embracing each other’s differences and finding something that they have in common.”
The inspiration for the story came from Yamaguchi’s own experiences as a young skater. When she was 14, Yamaguchi and her then-pairs skating partner Rudy Galindo, competed at the Junior World Championships in Sarajevo.
“I vividly remember my first international competition and the excitement of meeting skaters who didn’t speak English and who were fascinated with Levis because they were so Western,” she notes. “It was such an eye-opening experience. It taught me at such a young age to appreciate people from different countries and cultures.”
Now Yamaguchi and Galindo are teaming up again — sort of. Last November Yamaguchi’s younger daughter, Emma, expressed an interest in following in Mom’s footsteps and longtime pal Galindo agreed to teach her.
“I’m not holding my breath or building my hopes up,” laughs Yamaguchi. “I told her, ‘That means you have to practice and take lessons.'”
Yamaguchi says she and Hedican, 41, have the same philosophy about their daughter taking to the ice.
“We’re not going to push her to be competitive. We will take it step by step and let her dictate how involved she wants to get,” explains Yamaguchi. “It’s a great sport and you can learn a lot from it, even if you’re not going to be an elite skater.”
The most important thing, she says, is that her daughter has fun.
“I remember the joy I got out of it as a young child,” Yamaguchi recalls. “If she wants to compete, I’ll support her and encourage her, and if she decides not to, I’m fine with that, too.”
— Monica Rizzo