By Peter Lefevre
At the beginning of figure skater Michelle Kwan's career, her fans used to thow stuffed animals on the ice after her performances.
Success met success, championship followed championship, great performances were followed by brilliant performances. And the stuffed animals began to pile up.
"Pretty soon I had a room full of them," Kwan says. "I thought, 'What am I going to do with all these?' So I decided to give them to the kids at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, and they loved it.
"And then I thought, 'I can do more.'"
And so she has. She's become chair of Champions Across America, associated with the Children's Miracle Network. CMN is an international non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for and awareness of children's hospitals. Since its founding in 1983, CMN has raised more than $1.2 billion for children in need-$172 million in 1998 alone.
Of course, numbers tell only part of the story. Kwan is happy to lend her skills, time, and energy to raising funds, but her connection with the children is personal and immediate.
"They go through some bad times, and if they can smile one extra day it means everything in the world," she says. "It means a lot to me. It really brightens your day. If I can make one kid smile, it's worth it.
"Sometimes, the kids are stronger than the parents. They'll say stuff like 'Mom, I'll be OK,' and it makes you think they will be."
As such a high-visibility personality, Kwan is also aware that her actions are being looked at by others. And she's using her celebrity in a compassionate way.
"I think it's important to set an example, to say, 'This needs to be done.' You want to make a difference. And CMN makes a huge difference."
Kwan, a Torrance native, is one of the world's premiere figure skaters. She's won 19 championships, including two world and national championships, was named Skater of the Year in 1994, 1996, and 1998 (the only multiple winner of the award), and was named 1996 Female Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
She also won the 1998 Olympic silver medal in Nagano, Japan, and with as much grace as she accepted the silver, that doesn't mean she hasn't got her eyes set on 2002.
"I'm just staying at home and training, getting ready, preparing for the nationals right now, and for Salt Lake City."
Childrens Hospital Los Angeles is recognized as one of the foremost pediatric medical facilities in the country, with nearly 200,000 patient visits per year. It was founded in 1901, beginning in a donated house in Chinatown, and has grown over the decades into a world leader for advanced pediatric care, research, and physician education. Hard to believe, but the year 2001 marks CHLA's centennial, a landmark achievement.
This past year has seen its share of successes for the hospital. Perhaps the biggest news from CHLA was the December announcement that it will be breaking ground in March, 1999, for the $60 million Gateway Building, a state-of-the-art surgery center and operations plant. Scheduled for completion in March, 2001, the building will include 14 surgical suites and a special procedure room that will replace CHLA's 30-year-old surgical facilities. The center will allow for minimally invasive surgeries to be performed, making available to children what is now available only to adults.
Other highlights of the year:
"I would encourage anyone to help these kids," says Kwan. "[People] can be champions themselves by volunteering, by being blood donors, by giving toy donations. You can help and even the littlest thing is worth it. You can make a difference."
Check out the cover of the magazine, and the picture with the article.
Thanks to Jenny for typing this out!