Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi shares why flu vaccination sustains her competitive edge
She skated into our hearts with more than 12 major championships on the ice, including two World Figure Skating Championships and Olympic Gold medals, and dazzled us with her amazing moves on Dancing with the Stars. Now, with a passion for keeping her family healthy, Kristi Yamaguchi is back in the spotlight as one of the newest faces in the American Lung Association’s campaign to fight against influenza (FacesofInfluenza.org).
This fall, 1 out of 5 Americans will get the flu, and anywhere from 3,000 to nearly 50,000 people of all ages will die from the flu, depending on the virus’ severity during the season, which traditionally begins between October and November. For Kristi, the decision to get her own 2 young daughters and her hockey star husband vaccinated each year, and to join the campaign, was an easy one.
“My mom encouraged me every year to get the flu shot because the competitive season was so close to flu season. It was one less thing for her to worry about. Becoming a mom myself made me realize you’ll do anything to keep your family as healthy as possible so why wouldn’t I do what my mom did for me as well?,” asks Kristi.
“When my daughter Emma was born, my doctor gave me a flu vaccination before I left the hospital to help prevent spreading this serious disease to my newborn,” said Kristi. “Since then, I make sure we all get vaccinated every year. This includes my husband, my 2 daughters, and even their grandparents.”
The tragedies of flu
Having worked with the American Lung Association before, Kristi said it’s the tragic stories around the devastating effects of the flu that motivates her to encourage others, including pregnant women, to get vaccinated. “Learning from families who have been personally affected by the flu, and how tragic some of those stories are, it’s like, ‘Wow! Much of this could be avoided if people really understood the importance of vaccination every year and how effective it can be,’” she says.
Stories like that of Zack Yaksich and his family, who lost their non-vaccinated 5-year-old daughter, Alana, to complications with the flu. Children are typically among the leading victims of the flu every year. Now, the Yaksich family regularly gets vaccinated and encourages others to do the same in Alana’s memory. Still, says Yamaguchi, people don’t seem to understand how serious influenza can be.
“I definitely hear people say, ‘I got the flu shot and I still got sick anyway,’ which is impossible, by the way, as it’s a killed virus.” When she hears these excuses, “I think, ‘you’re still at risk for getting the common cold, the vaccination is protecting you from influenza, which is much different, much more serious than a cold.’”
Kristi as Mom CEO
With a new book out, Dream Big, Little Pig
, the proceeds of which go to her Always Dream Foundation, Kristi is finding herself at a new place in life with all new competitive challenges.
“I’ve been switching gears in life now more toward the years of being a mom, and I think it’s fun being a mom and connecting with other moms. My main role now is definitely the CEO of the household, so I stay on top of my girls’ annual exams and their pediatrician definitely recommends that they get immunized.”
What drives a busy mom and wife to keep reaching for new projects? “I think I’m always happy to face a new challenge, having been goal-oriented as a child growing up skating,” says Kristi. “The Olympics were in my 20s, and I was like, ‘life can’t end now, there has to be more.’ These projects keep me motivated and inspired to keep busy and find the next challenge.”
With Dream Big, Little Pig
, Kristi is sharing her daughters’ love of reading. “My two girls inspired me. Seeing how much they love books and the joy they get out of them, and knowing the benefits they’re getting from reading and being read to, I wanted to do a children’s book for them and dedicate it to them,” she says.
At the same time, she was refocusing the work of her Always Dream Foundation on promoting childhood literacy. “It became the perfect way to designate a portion of the proceeds of the book to my foundation and early literacy. Our goal is to get books and the love of reading to the children who don’t have access to books,” she says.
Fitting it all in
As one of the 15 most popular Olympians ever, Kristi remains a leading role model for women and moms as she seems to have accomplished it all, including having a wonderful and loving family. So, how does she do it? Find time to be an amazing wife, mom, celebrity and entrepreneur?
“My husband is really supportive of what I do, and like every mom out there, there are times when I feel a little harried. But I really try to do be conscious of not biting off more than I can chew. I focus on my family and that’s always my #1 priority. And really knowing what type of projects I can take on and put energy into as well,” says Yamaguchi.
Especially with the birth of their second daughter, Kristi reflects on the demands of childrearing and maintaining her competitive edge. “Your schedule is really their schedule and needs. It was hard for a few years when they were born. Now that they’re older I have time when they’re both off to school. I really try to be conscious of trying to fit fitness into my schedule, and that means looking at the calendar and trying to then set aside that time. As a mom you know you have to give that time to yourself if you’re going to get it all in.”