-- Note: This is Kristi Yamaguchi's story, as told to ABC News. Yamaguchi, 43, is an Olympic gold medalist in figure skating and a world champion. Her status as a legend in the sport is undeniable, but she has transitioned from professional sports to best-selling author and of course, mother to two daughters -- Keara and Emma. She is also the founder of the Always Dream Foundation, focused on early childhood literacy.
I started the Always Dream Foundation around 1996 because I really wanted to give back and make a difference. I knew I wanted to do something involving children. After the 1992 Olympics, I joined the “Stars on Ice" tour, which benefited the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That was my first experience working with a non-profit, and we spent time with the families and children in need. That really had an impact on me. That’s when I first realized I have the power to make a difference.
The reward of putting a smile on a child’s face, who has to deal with so many challenges in life, is just beyond words. It's incredible.
I wanted to focus on children, underserved kids, and make a positive difference in their lives. In the last four years, we’ve really focused in on early childhood literacy. Our mission is simple -- "To inspire" these kids to fulfill their dreams through programs that are not only educational, but also fun.
My love for reading has always been a big part of me. I remember at that "tween" age, reading was this magical escape for me. When I was growing up, we didn’t have tablets and phones, we had maybe Atari. For entertainment, that was my getaway.
On long road trips, plane rides, or even my brother's baseball games, a book -- my favorites are "Charlotte's Web" and the "Anne of Green Gables" series -- was always something great to have on hand.
When I became a mom, my passion for reading only intensified. I was told by our doctor, “You have to start reading to your baby now!” when Keara was probably just 2 months old. I took that advice to heart and I think my eyes are more open now than ever on how important it is to start that early. You need to be involved and encourage your children to love reading.
Now, it’s just part of our bedtime routine. I started reading to my daughters, Keara and Emma, and it stuck. They love it and with Always Dream, they are involved and learn about giving back to others.
I'd have to say my kids are really what inspired me to become a children’s author in 2011 with "Dream Big, Little Pig." [The book reached No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and won multiple prestigious awards.]
After this milestone, I think my devotion to early childhood literacy just hit another gear. Reading so much to my own kids, seeing the joy they got our of books and now having my own book, the purpose just crystallized for me. Plus, at the time they were at that perfect age to be involved in a project like this. They were not only an inspiration for the book, they inspired me to get it done. [In the meantime, Yamaguchi published a follow up to her 2011 children's book, "It's a Big World Little Pig," published in 2012.]
Now, I’m working on a third children’s picture book! It's in the editing phase and hopefully in the next year, it will be out.
It’s hard to ever replicate that intense pressure and the feeling of accomplishment from high stakes sports. Those are pretty rare, but you have to transition to other phases in your life and find new challenges. I know I’m lucky to have found something else to be passionate about. There’s still a lot of reward that I take from what I do now, even if it’s a little less glamorous.
Those moments where you see a light bulb go off in a child’s mind, where he or she just gets it. The joy that is just glowing off their face as they are being read to, that’s always more than enough to keep me motivated.
In a collaboration with Leapfrog, I'm asking parents, grandparents and anyone who has a child in their life, to commit to reading with their child just 20 minutes a day. That's it!
For every family who signs up this March, LeapFrog will donate 20 books to the Always Dream foundation, which we will make sure gets in the hands of underserved children.
Our foundation has reading programs implemented in kindergarten and in schools to celebrate National reading Month, which is March. So, Leapfrog seemed like the perfect partner.
It’s a win-win for everyone.