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updated: 3/30/2011 2:15 PM

Suburban families flock to meet Kristi Yamaguchi

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  • Students listen to Yamaguchi answer questions.

       Students listen to Yamaguchi answer questions.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Some students who bought Kristi Yamaguchi's book found her autograph inside.

       Some students who bought Kristi Yamaguchi's book found her autograph inside.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A figure skater herself, Lorelei Stailey, 9, of Arlington Heights had her medal signed by Kristi Yamaguchi.

       A figure skater herself, Lorelei Stailey, 9, of Arlington Heights had her medal signed by Kristi Yamaguchi.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Olive-Mary Stitt student Claire Magnuson,10, gets her picture taken with Kristi Yamaguchi after she read her new children's book to the school on Tuesday.

       Olive-Mary Stitt student Claire Magnuson,10, gets her picture taken with Kristi Yamaguchi after she read her new children's book to the school on Tuesday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Olive-Mary Stitt students ask questions after Yamaguchi read her new children's book.

       Olive-Mary Stitt students ask questions after Yamaguchi read her new children's book.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Kristi Yamaguchi answers questions at Olive-Mary Stitt school.

       Kristi Yamaguchi answers questions at Olive-Mary Stitt school.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Kristi Yamaguchi reads her new children's book to the school on Tuesday.

       Kristi Yamaguchi reads her new children's book to the school on Tuesday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Eileen O. Daday

Nearly 20 years after Kristi Yamaguchi won her Olympic gold medal in figure skating, she still draws cheering crowds.

During book signing appearances in the Northwest suburbs Tuesday, students and their parents packed multipurpose rooms to see the former skating champion and, more recently, the winner of "Dancing with the Stars."

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Yamaguchi began her day on the set of ABC 7 News This Morning, before making presentations to students at Olive-Mary Stitt School and Christian Liberty Academy, both in Arlington Heights; and Grove Avenue School in Barrington.

She rounded out her day at Anderson's Book Shop in Naperville, which sponsored all of her local appearances.

At the center of her tour is Yamaguchi's newest book, "Dream Big, Little Pig!" which already is No. 2 on national best-selling children's book lists.

With whimsical illustrations by Tim Bowers, the book follows Poppy the pig, as she struggles to find an area where she can excel. Once she tries ice skating, she finds she loves the feeling of being on the ice, and she dedicates herself to improving.

At Olive-Mary Stitt School in Arlington Heights, fifth grader Claire Magnuson was tapped to introduce Yamaguchi.

"She's a skater and I'm a skater," Magnuson said later. "I've always read about her and looked up to her. She did something great, and achieved her dreams."

Fifth grader Ryan Crowley of Arlington Heights was more interested in how Yamaguchi's family celebrated when her husband, Bret Hedican, and the Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

"It was wonderful to see him accomplish his dreams," Yamaguchi said. "And yes, we did get to eat cereal and ice cream out of the cup."

Another five students lined up with prepared questions, but first grader Janelle Baenke of Arlington Heights, summed it up best: "Are you the little pig in the story?"

Yamaguchi laughed and confessed the character was fictional, but conceded there are similarities. Like Poppy, Yamaguchi tried other activities first, from dancing to sports, but she found she loved skating the most.

"I was 6 or in first grade when I started," Yamaguchi said. "My mother wanted to make sure I learned how to read before I learned to skate."

Her two daughters, ages 7 and 5, inspired her to write a children's book, and they even helped suggest some of its dialogue. But selecting a pig as the main character, was Yamaguchi's choice.

"I was born in the year of the pig," she said. "Pigs have always been special to me; I have collections of them and they've always been my good luck charm."

Yamaguchi added as she has become more involved with her daughters' education, the more she has become focused on the importance of literacy -- in particular among children at an early age.

As a result, she adds, she has narrowed the focus of her foundation, "Always Dream," to support early childhood literacy, and target children in underserved communities. A percentage of the book's proceeds will support those initiatives.

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