The Heisman Trophy Trust announced Oct. 23 that former U.S. figure skating champion and Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi will be awarded the 14th annual Heisman Humanitarian Award in recognition of her service and dedication to underprivileged youth.
“The Heisman Trophy Trust is pleased to recognize Kristi Yamaguchi with the 2019 Heisman Humanitarian Award for her tremendous work,” stated Mike Comerford, President of the Heisman Trust. “Yamaguchi’s dedication to improving childhood literacy for less fortunate youth aligns perfectly with the mission of the Heisman Trust. There are children throughout our country in need of assistance. By shining a greater light on Kristi’s tremendous example, we hope that others may follow her lead.”
Yamaguchi is widely known for her hard work and dedication throughout her figure skating career. She 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 titles 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. 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. 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,” said Yamaguchi. “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. 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.”
Yamaguchi joins the company of 13 other extraordinary Heisman Humanitarians:
Joey Cheek, Olympic speed skating gold medalist, for his dedication and service to the children of Darfur;
George Martin, former defensive end of the New York Giants, who walked across America to raise funds for rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero after 9/11;
Pat LaFontaine, former NHL star, who, through his Companions in Courage Foundation, builds interactive playrooms in children’s hospitals to keep young patients connected to their families and friends;
Mia Hamm, world-renowned soccer player, who raises funds and awareness for families needing bone marrow or cord blood transplants and continues to build opportunities for young women in sports;
Warrick Dunn, former NFL running back, who has provided homes for single-parent families to honor his mother’s memory;
Marty Lyons, University of Alabama and New York Jet defensive tackle, whose foundation fulfills special wishes of children with terminal or life-threatening illness;
Jeff Gordon, four time NASCAR Cup Series champion and founder of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which supports children battling cancer;
David Robinson, former San Antonio Spurs center, who has dedicated himself to helping children and families in need in the San Antonio community;
Joe Torre, legendary baseball player/manager, who created the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation that works to end the cycle of domestic violence;
Boomer Esiason, All-Pro quarterback, whose Boomer Esiason Foundation fights cystic fibrosis;
Alan Page, who assists students of color to achieve their dreams in furthering their education;
Ernie Els, whose foundation provides hope and support for people with autism;
Mark Teixeira, former MLB all-star and champion, who has been an active supporter for local organizations such as the Emerald Corridor Foundation and DREAM.
The Heisman Trophy Trust is delighted to welcome Yamaguchi into the Heisman family. She will receive her award, along with a $75,000 contribution to the Always Dream Foundation, at the 85th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner Gala on Sunday, Dec. 15, in New York City.
— CHRIS HUSTON