New Frontiers...Changing the way we live
Michelle Kwan speaks for Teen Read Week, but otherwise this champion skater and college freshman quietly pursues a passion for reading.
By Jennifer Mendelsohn
Michelle Kwan is the first to admit she didn't read enough books growing up. "I was always watching TV and doing other things" confesses the 19- year-old reigning US. ladies' figure skating champ.
Kwan has spent the past few years making up for lost time. With her endorsement-friendly persona selling everything from soap to soup, this month Kwan speaks up as chairperson for the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (Oct. 17-23), hoping to give books a little old-fashioned attention amid all that competes for teens' free time.
What makes reading so special? "I'm here to say reading is cool. I really believe that," Kwan says "Playing a video game might be fun for five minutes, then it says, 'You're dead. Put another quarter in.'"
Kwan enjoys reading before breakfast. She especially loves history books, "because you can learn from the past" she says.
Not only is she an avid reader, but the two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist also is an author: She penned an autobiography at 17 and just released The Winning Attitude! (Hyperion, $9.99), the first in a series of motivational books for teens.
Kwan, who counts Memoirs of a Geisha among her recent favorites, took her bookishness to new heights this fall, enrolling as a freshman at UCLA. But she still is holding onto her dream of competing in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics
"Everybody thinks I'm staying in it just for the gold" she says, sipping green tea in her cozy chalet in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., outside Los Angeles. The real reason? "I haven't reached my potential yet. I haven't peaked, or even been close to it"
In this post-Columbine era, where so much of the national conversation is about violence and alienation, Kwan seems an anomaly: a disciplined teen who preaches simple things like listening to your parents, finishing what you start and living by the golden rule.
She's still intensely close to her parents, who live next door. "It's so important that parents are there," says Kwan. the youngest of three siblings. "How are you supposed to know what's right and wrong when people aren't there to tell you?"
If negative influences can rub off, she likes to believe her positive nature can be contagious, too, and encourages teens to better themselves: "It could be having a goal, it could be being a good friend, it could be acing a test. It could be anything."
Kwan has no patience with athletes who don't want to be role models. "It's too late," she says. "You already are. You can be a bad role model or a good role model. What do you choose?"