Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi knows something about dreaming big and never giving up.
The figure skating champion and Alamo resident hopes to inspire kids to pursue ambitious dreams with her newly released children’s book, "Dream Big Little Pig!" She will be signing copies of the book at Barnes and Noble in Walnut Creek on Saturday.
The book follows the journey of Poppy, a pig who dreams big, but struggles to find the talent needed to be a star.
Poppy enthusiastically tries dancing, singing, and modeling, but each time she falls short, and is told to "try something else."
Undeterred, and with the support of her family and best friend, Emma, Poppy keeps trying until she discovers she is passionate about ice-skating.
Ultimately, with lots of practice, Poppy becomes the star she was determined to be.
Yamaguchi says her two daughters Keara, 7, and Emma, 5, inspired her to write the book.
She is married to Bret Hedican, a retired professional hockey player.
Seeing how much their daughters enjoy books, made Yamaguchi sit down and write the children's book she says she "had in the back of my mind" for some time.
She says she enjoyed the process of developing Poppy's story, with her daughters' help.
They were willing listeners and critics, she says. Keara came up with the name Poppy, while Emma is the namesake of Poppy's dedicated and supportive best friend.
Choosing a precocious pig— brought to life in the animated illustrations of veteran illustrator Tim Bowers—as her spunky and determined heroine, felt "completely natural," says Yamaguchi.
She has "always had 'a thing' for pigs" and was also born in the year of the pig.
Although elements of her life are woven into Poppy’s story, Yamaguchi says the tale is more “whimsical” than autobiographical.
Like Poppy, she tried many sports—gymnastics, basketball, and baton twirling —before getting hooked on skating at age six.
She describes her first experience on ice as “magical.”
Although her mother "had to hold her up," she recalls wanting to go faster and faster. Afterwards, she asked her mother insistently, “When are we going to come back?”
Yamaguchi's positive determination is another quality she gave Poppy.
With that determination, she has realized many of her dreams including winning a gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics, taking home numerous championship titles including a win on "Dancing with the Stars," starting businesses and her Always Dream Foundation.
She established the foundation in 1996 to improve the lives of people living in the East Bay.
For the past 15 years, the Always Dream Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to over 50 local charities and projects. The foundation built a playground in Fremont, the Always Dream Playground, where kids with disabilities can play on accessible equipment alongside their peers without disabilities.
The children's book is part of a new chapter in Yamaguchi's mission to encourage reading and technology literacy for kids. A portion of the proceeds from "Dream Big Little Pig!" will go towards funding literacy programs.
She hopes her foundation will "help fill the gaps in funding" created by increasingly deeper cuts to education.
She says the publication of the book comes at a “perfect time,” as she specifically focuses in on addressing the lack of books in children’s homes—a significant factor shown to affect early literacy.
“We understand that a lot of children don’t have books at home,” she says. “If we can partner with organizations that can help—encouraging reading and getting books into their homes—that’s where we would like to make our mark.’’
As she travels the country on a media and book tour, Yamaguchi says she is most excited to see children reading and enjoying the book.
Book tours and work for her foundation aside, Yamaguchi enjoys being in Alamo, close to where she grew up, as well as the normality of suburban life and her role as a mom.
But she is still dreaming big.
She thinks that it is “absolutely great to have dreams no matter what phase of life you are in,” and says that, “it keeps you young, and keeps you motivated.’’
"Dream Big Little Pig!" is in stores now, and you can meet Kristi Yamaguchi and get a signed copy of her new book at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Walnut Creek, 1149 South Main St., this Saturday, March 19 at 1 p.m.