Michelle Kwan, in addition to being a world champion figure skater and two-time Olympic medalist, was the subject of a school paper I wrote about a “woman I admired.” I was in the fourth grade at the time, and Michelle was on the cusp of winning a bronze medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. While doing research for the paper, I learned that Michelle is the third child of two immigrants from Hong Kong. Her mother, Estella Kwan, woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day to get Michelle to the rink by 5 a.m. so she could practice before school. This grueling morning routine, shared by Michelle and her mother, was instrumental in shaping a girl who would eventually become the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.
Michelle recently partnered with Proctor & Gamble for the latest installment of its “Thank You, Mom” campaign ahead of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a twist of poetic serendipity, I got to catch up with Michelle 15 years after I first wrote about her to discuss what her morning routine looks like now, as well as the impact her mother has had on her life and career. Read on to hear Michelle describe all of the above in her own words; scroll to the bottom to watch the short film it inspired.
I exercise in the morning at least five or six days a week, sometimes seven. It’s instilled in me and I love it. It makes me feel energized. I can’t wait until the evening to exercise or I get too tired, plus I don’t like having it hang over me throughout day. I usually rotate between pilates on the reformer or hot yoga or core power. When I’m traveling, I do my own routine — a combination of yoga, skating moves I can do on the floor, plyometrics, planks and stretching.
Yoga helps clear my mind. It helps me maintain a sense of mental ease throughout the day, so when I’m stuck in traffic, or I get in an argument, or something chaotic happens at work, I’m able to take a step back to pause and reflect before I react. That’s why I practice so much: for the safety of others [laughs].
I still skate occasionally, too. Not as much as I’d like, but it’s so much fun when I do. I forget how hard it is, though. There’s a difference between being in shape and being in ice skating shape. There’s a certain kind of rhythm you can only master with consistent practice.
I love eggs, so I usually make myself an omelet for breakfast. Lately I’ve been doing eggs, some other protein on the side and fruit, like berries or something. I’ve also been doing a lot of ginger lemon shots. I really want to try making them myself, but right now I get them from Pressed Juicery. Sometimes I drink coffee, sometimes I don’t. Yesterday I drank, like, six cups. I never drink it black. I need milk and I need sugar. I’m a sucker for soy lattes.
It shocks people when I say I’m an introvert. I talk, I engage, I introduce myself, but it takes a lot out of me. After periods of high-energy socializing when I’m going to functions or doing interviews, I need to recharge. Tomorrow, I’m planning to spend a lot of time alone. I’ll probably go to yoga. Knowing I need and deserve that respite was such an important thing for me to learn.
There’s so much stuff I wish I could tell my younger self, like to stop getting hung up on doubts and insecurities and to be present and keep chasing my dreams. You don’t always have to know what’s next. You don’t need to have everything mapped out. As an athlete, you instinctively try to control every situation, everything you possibly can, because every move and every breathe and every step is calculated. I remember visualizing my skating routine over and over again before I went to bed. Controlling things was part of my job, you know?
That’s why I’m so grateful for my mom. She was always there for me, through the whole experience, driving me to the rink early in the morning, staying up until 2 a.m. to make my costumes, and providing for me despite our lack of financial resources. Nothing was going to stop her from helping me. I could have said I wanted to be an astronaut, and she would have been like, okay, let’s do this.
Photo by Edith Young.