The world has returned it’s focus to the world of figure skating due to the epic biopic that came out last year about Tonya Harding. As unbelievably funny as certain parts of the movie were, a lot of the realities of her upbringing were heart-breaking and sad. Tonya was raised by an abusive mother and bullied all throughout school. The saddest part is that she never got to realize her dream of becoming an Olympic champion. So on a happier note, I’d like to feature another famous figure skater from that period who was homeschooled and went on to be ranked as the most decorated figure skater in the U.S. Our Homeschooling Hero today is Michelle Kwan.
Michelle was born in Torrance, CA to immigrant parents from Hong Kong in 1980. She had an older brother who played ice hockey and a sister who was a figure skater. Following them onto the ice was the beginning of her interest in skating at the age of five.
By the time she was eight, both her and her sister had begun intense training. They got up early every morning to practice before and after school. Michelle started to compete at the junior level in 1992 when she was eleven, winning the World Junior Championships. That same year is when Michelle left public school to be homeschooled during eighth grade. Homeschooling allowed her to focus more time and energy on building her skills on the ice.
Michelle continued to mature and develop her style competing against the world’s best skaters such as Chen Lu and Tara Lipinski. She had many struggles with falls, uncomfortable skates (new boots as part of her endorsement), and injuries, but Michelle endured. Over a decade she won five World Championships, nine U.S. Championships, and has earned the silver and bronze medals during the 1998 and 2002 Olympic games.
In 2006 she suffered a hip injury that would eventually cause her to hang up her skates and think about what was to come next. Michelle chose to finish the degree she had started at UCLA by enrolling at the University of Denver. She graduated in 2009 from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. It seems that Michelle was following in the footsteps of another famous University of Denver alum that was just featured last week, Condoleezza Rice who also studied political science and international studies.
It’s no wonder though, because in 2006, just after she withdrew from the Olympics, Michelle told Condoleezza of her interest in politics over dinner. The then Secretary of State appointed Michelle to the first-ever position of Public Diplomacy Envoy. As a representative of American values, she traveled to many countries to speak to young people and sports enthusiasts about leadership. By the time she graduated, Michelle had announced to the press that she would no longer be pursuing a spot in the 2010 Olympics.
Enjoying her work in public service (which was unsalaried by the way) is what inspired her to go further and get her masters degree at the Tufts University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Michelle’s interest and hard work led her to work for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and to also work for Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign as an outreach coordinator.
This past year Michelle has been found laced up and back on the ice in anticipation of the upcoming 2018 Olympic figure skating competition. She claims that she is a little rusty, as are her blades, but those who have been fans for years say she never lost it.
There isn’t much public detail about Michelle’s homeschool life, but like many other professional athletes, the choice to focus on her interests and learn at home seems to have paid off tremendously.