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Home ice: Olympic gold medalist Yamaguchi visits Cottage Grove Elementary

Author and Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi was virtually on home ice Monday when she dropped in at Cottage Grove Elementary School to read from her latest children's book.

The philanthropist and bestselling author has in-laws who live in Woodbury. Her husband is St. Paul native and former NHL player Bret Hedican. The two met when they represented their country at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Yamaguchi won the gold in women's singles figure skating, making her the first Asian-American Olympic champion in history.

Hedican would go on to play with the Carolina Hurricanes and earn a 2006 Stanley Cup Championship ring with the team.

"His whole family is still here," Yamaguchi said, adding that she was surprised to see how Woodbury has grown.

Cottage Grove Elementary students in grades K-2 turned out to hear Yamaguchi read from "Cara's Kindness." The story concerns Cara the Cat, who tries out a new figure skating routine but keeps slipping and falling until a friend lends a hand.

"There was quite the big buzz in the building," said reading specialist Linnea Gamache, who helped arrange Yamaguchi's appearance through Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. Yamaguchi was scheduled to make an appearance there Monday evening.

At Cottage Grove Elementary, Yamaguchi was introduced by student and aspiring figure skater Madison Xaphakdy, 8.

Madeline Hartung, 8, was among several students who had questions for the champ.

"I heard she is a good skater," Madeline said.

Other questions:

What was the first book you wrote? That would be Dream Big, Little Pig, which she wrote for her daughters Keara and Emma when they were small.

Does she still figure skate? Not so much anymore, she said.

Yamaguchi told the students she loved feeling the wind in her face when she skated. When competing, she made sure to choose music that stirred her passions.

"A lot of times, you try to create a story when you skate," she said.

Yamaguchi established the Always Dream Foundation to help promote childhood literacy. Her book tours are part of her mission to inspire young minds with the glories of reading.

"It's so great to be able to come to schools and speak to the kids," she said afterward. "You see that kids can never get enough of being read to. It's so important. And to be able to share a story that I've written for them, to see their reactions first hand, is always very rewarding."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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