Kristi Yamaguchi was not graceful or elegant as a baby. Born with club feet, she had casts on her legs for much of the first year of her life and then wore corrective shoes connected by a brace for the next year.
“The braces hurt my legs a lot, and I remember trying to walk with a bar in between my feet — I had to shuffle,” Yamaguchi said. “I was lucky they corrected it when I was so young. Skating wasn’t assigned to me, but when I wanted to skate, the doctors said it would help.”
Yamaguchi followed her older sister, Lori, to the ice rink and quickly fell in love with skating. She had seen several ice shows and was enamored with 1976 gold medalist Dorothy Hamill. And in addition to helping strengthen her feet, skating also provided an outlet for Yamaguchi, who was naturally shy.
“I didn’t feel shy at all on the ice,” she said. “There was a feeling of freedom, of gliding on the ice, where I could express myself in a way I had never felt.
“It became my safe haven, with music and freedom and self-expression. That was my emotional outlet. I look back now and can’t believe I found such passion for skating at such a young age.
Yamaguchi soon settled into the life of an elite skater. After graduating high school, she moved to Alberta, Canada, in order to train full-time with her coach and prepare for the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games. There, Yamaguchi was nearly flawless as she became the first Asian-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal and bring the ladies’ singles figure skating gold medal back to the United States for the first time since Hamill’s victory.
It was also in Albertville that Yamaguchi first met her future husband, American hockey player Bret Hedican.
After spending 10 years performing in various ice shows, Yamaguchi settled down to raise a family. She also founded the Always Dream Foundation for children and published an award-winning children’s book. In 2018, she was honored by the U.S. Olympic Committee with the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award.