U.S. figure skating champion and Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi became the 14th Annual Heisman Humanitarian Award in recognition of her service and dedication to underprivileged youth.
Yamaguchi is widely known for her hard work and dedication throughout her figure skating career. Yamaguchi initially started skating as therapy for her club feet, but it quickly developed into a passion for the sport. In 1986, she won her first U.S. Championship for junior pairs title with Rudy Galindo. They went on to win another World Juniors Championship two years later, as well as back-to-back seniors title in 1989 and 1990. Yamaguchi then started focusing on singles skating and won the World Championship in 1991 and 1992 and a gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics. Her illustrious figure skating career allowed her to be inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1998, the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1999, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2005.
Aside from her figure skating career, Yamaguchi has also been a philanthropic champion for many years. In 1996, she founded the Always Dream Foundation to support underprivileged children. Some of Always Dream Foundation programs have included sponsoring summer camps for children with disabilities, establishing after-school programs, setting up holiday parties for children and distributing financial support for underprivileged children to purchase back-to-school supplies. As a mother of two daughters and a children’s book author, Yamaguchi understands the importance of the role that books play in children’s literacy development, so she shifted the focus of her foundation to improving early childhood literacy for underprivileged kids by providing high-quality books through digital tablets or physical copies in the hopes of fostering children’s love for reading and also increase family engagement.
To date, the Always Dream Foundation has served over 10,000 students and partnered with 26 schools in California, Arizona and Hawaii providing 21st century technology and literacy resources.
“I am truly honored to be recognized along with such an esteemed cast of humanitarians from the sports world. My success at the Olympic Games has provided me with a visible platform and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference.” stated Yamaguchi. “When kids build a love of reading, they move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” This milestone is undeniably transformative, opening doors to new possibilities and dreams. I am deeply humbled by this award and the financial support will allow my Always Dream Foundation to serve more students in need.”