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Kwan's Bio Gets to the "Heart" of Skating

Michelle Kwan lets you into her life, her mind, and her heart in a new autobiography -- Michelle Kwan: Heart of a Champion -- from Scholastic. Included: Tips for using Kwan's autobiography in the classroom!

Michelle Kwan Book Cover What do the weeks ahead hold for Michelle Kwan? Will she bring gold home from Nagano? Will her face be plastered on Wheaties boxes? Will she be the next celebrity to celebrate victory at Disney World?

Or will the 1998 Olympic Winter Games be another valuable lesson for Kwan -- as the 1997 Nationals were?

Expectations for Kwan were high at the 1997 Nationals in Nashville. Only ten months before, she had placed first in the 1996 World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton, Canada. But getting to the top, Kwan would learn, wasn't the hard part. Staying there was.

Kwan shares her rise (and falls) to the top of the figure skating world in her new autobiography, Michelle Kwan: Heart of a Champion, just published by Scholastic. In the book's first chapter -- "Falling Down" -- Kwan takes us inside her head at the 1997 Nationals, where a couple unexpected falls resulted in a second-place finish. But -- prompted by her father and her buddy Brian Boitano to answer the question What did you learn from this? -- Kwan was able to look inside herself, overcome her disappointment, and once again discover her passion for skating.

"There's nothing I can do to ensure that I don't have a bad night again," writes Kwan. "But, win or lose, I have to try not to forget why I'm on the ice in the first place: I love to skate Skating is in my heart, not my head. From the time I was five, skating has always made me feel like I was flying. Just being on the ice made me happy. But at Nationals I was so busy trying not to fall that I forgot to feel what was in my heart. I forgot about my love of skating. And I guess you could say that love, which started back when I was still a pipsqueak eating candy and playing with stuffed animals, is what my story is all about."

And that's the underlying message and what Kwan hopes young readers will take away from reading her story, Heart of a Champion.


In Heart of a Champion, Michelle Kwan takes us inside the world of figure skating and inside the psyche of a champion. But she begins by offering a glimpse at her early years, her growing love of skating, and her resolve to be the best.

Being the best came with its share of sacrifices -- sacrifices Kwan made herself and sacrifices her family made. Did you know that, until recently, Michelle seldom had new clothes? For most of her life, she wore hand-me-downs from cousins! Did you know that one Christmas the Kwans decided to forego having a Christmas tree because it would only live a short time and the money spent on it could be used to pay bills? Did you know that Kwan's mother and father sold their house and moved the family in with relatives so they could pay for skating lessons for their figure-skating daughters Michelle and Karen?

Michelle Kwan is a role model for millions of children and teens. And Kwan is well aware of this. In her story, she consciously drives home to youthful readers many important lessons -- lessons about sacrificing to achieve goals and dreams, lessons about loving and respecting family and elders, and lessons about the importance of having fun!


Along the way, readers learn about Kwan's rich imagination, about friendships forged, and about rituals and superstitions she still observes. Readers follow Kwan's growth from "kid" skater to "artistic" skater. And, through it all, we marvel at what a normal kid she is! Today, at age seventeen, Kwan is a "normal" teen -- a serious bargain shopper who loves roller coasters and music (but not head-banger music); a teen who keeps a diary and swoons over Brad Pitt!

Heart of a Champion is written in the first person, as told to Laura James. The book reads like a diary (right down to the use of parentheses to express really personal thoughts!). You almost expect to see little bubble dots over the letter i and smiley faces at the ends of sentences!

The book includes an introduction written by skater Peggy Fleming. Fleming shares her observations about Michelle's growth as a skater since Fleming first saw her skate.


Today, Michelle Kwan poised for a return to the top of the figure skating world. Two weeks ago, at the U.S. Nationals in Philadelphia, eight out of nine judges gave Kwan perfect 6.0s for her performance in the long program -- the highest scores ever seen in Nationals!

Is the stage set for Kwan to achieve her lifetime dream of Olympic gold? Or is the stage set for another disappointment? Whatever the result in Nagano, Kwan will handle it with the same maturity she has handled other victories and defeats. What did you learn? will the bottom line, as it has been all along.


Why not take advantage of all the hype surrounding Kwan's appearance in the Winter Olympics? Use Heart of a Champion as a read-aloud book leading up to her long-program skate in Nagano. (The ladies' figure skating long program is one of the last Olympic events, scheduled for February 20.) Use the book to provide students with an eye into the mind and the heart of a champion! You might read the entire book; you could read two or three chapters a day, as most of the chapters are only 5 to 8 pages long. Or you might read select chapters, then place the book on the classroom bookshelf and let students read on their own to fill in the gaps.

In addition, the Internet is full of sites related to figure skaters. Many of these sites have been created by fans. After reading Heart of a Champion, you might encourage interested students to read more about Michelle Kwan. See what facts students can dig up about Kwan that weren't covered in the book. Following are a few sites I've found that might be helpful:

  • The Michelle Kwan Fan Page! Michelle Kwan is Heather Winfield's favorite skater. This page is Winfield's "tribute to her talents, accomplishments, and future successes." Includes reports from the 1998 Nationals, Kwan's competitive record, stories of Winfield's encounters with Kwan, and much more.
  • Michelle Kwan's Web Corner Adrian Chew's page provides a bio, photos, and an opportunity to "chat" about Kwan.
  • The Unofficial Michelle Kwan Web Page Here you'll find a bio including competition history, a photo album, a message board, and Kwan trivia. Also, an opportunity to submit a book review.
  • Michelle Kwan: 1998 U.S. Champion/Olympic Hopeful You'll find a bio, photos, a message board, and links to a Michelle Kwan newsletter. Issue #3 of the newsletter provides highlights from the 1998 Nationals.
  • Michelle Kwan: An Angel on Ice Post a message to Michelle on this site from Shin Yi. Also, news and photos.
  • The Michelle Kwan Web Page This page by Noelle Keon includes addresses for sending letters to Michelle, poll questions about your favorite Kwan number or costume, and the latest news.
  • Steve's Michelle Kwan Page Steve Chamberlain's "non-official fan based page" provides bio, photos, a Kwan autograph and sketch, and a brief review of Heart of a Champion.

Your local bookseller should have copies available of Michelle Kwan: Heart of a Champion, by Michelle Kwan as told to Laura James. If you can't find a copy of the book, ask your bookseller to order one for you or contact Scholastic, Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World