Apolo Ohno Helps Kids

Foundation puts emphasis on healthy lifestyle

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

When he was only 15 years old, Apolo Anton Ohno was dropped off at a cabin miles away from his home in Seattle, Washington.

"There's food in the refrigerator, and a pay phone," Ohno remembers his father telling him. "Call me when you've decided what you want to do with your life."

That was when Ohno discovered that to be successful you need a goal. Seven years after his decision to focus on his speed skating, he won two gold medals at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. He won six more this year in the 2010 Winter Games held in Vancouver, Canada. At the age of 28, he is the most decorated American athlete to compete in the Winter Olympic Games.

Recently, Ohno gave a lecture at Southern Connecticut State University. He is also the author of A Journey: The Autobiograpy of Apolo Anton Ohno, which is aimed at young adults; the founder of the Apolo Anton Ohno Foundation; and a partner with the Century Council and its "Ask, Listen, Learn" program in getting kids to say "yes" to a healthy lifestyle and "no" to underage drinking.

His story can be an inspiration for other young people in trouble, he told the audience in New Haven, Connecticut.

"The lessons that I've learned in short track speed skating and Olympic experience and pursuit can be applicable to any diverse area, whatever avenue people are trying to accomplish," Ohno said.

apolo anton ohno and kid reporter leila sachner
Kid Reporter Leila Sachner with Olympic Gold Medalist Apolo Anton Ohno at Southern Connecticut State University. (Photo courtesy Leila Sachner)

After the lecture, Ohno sat down with this reporter to talk about his life and his newest goal: to help young people stay healthy and focused and achieve their goals.

A Journey to Success

When Ohno's father sent him to the cabin, he told his troubled son that he wasn't giving 100 percent to anything in his life. The year before, Ohno had trained in an Olympic speed skating program but wasn't old enough to qualify despite ranking as the No. 1 skater in America. When he was 15 and eligible, he came in last. It wasn't for lack of skill—it was because he wasn't trying hard enough.

After eight days at the cabin, he called his dad and told him his decision.

"I want to be the fastest skater in the world," he said.

Ohno then spent the summer getting in shape. He turned his basement into a gym and worked out all summer preparing for the next Olympic Training Program. This time he was taking it seriously, and it worked. Ohno is the biggest name in speed skating, and he's still going strong.

Nerves and Dedication

Even after all his hard work and success, Ohno still gets nervous before he skates, he said. Once on the ice, however, it's all about the sport.

"I don't really think about anything while I skate," he says. "I get in the zone. Sometimes it feels like I'm in slow motion and I have all the time in the world to make a move."

Olympic success has brought benefits. Ohno was recently part of one of the most popular reality shows on TV, Dancing With the Stars. When his agent called with the offer, Ohno enthusiastically said yes.

Ohno was paired with 18-year-old Julianne Hough. He knew to win he would have to work hard. After hours of rehearsal, he and Julianne were finally ready to perform. That's when it happened again—another attack of nerves.

The pair had only 30 seconds until their performance. Ohno, who had been calm until that moment, suddenly began to flip out. He went up to Julianne and told her he didn't know the dance. When they went onstage, Ohno says he basically blacked out. He danced, but had to watch a tape of the performance later to see what happened.

He continued to work hard and perform. By bringing the same focus and determination to his dancing that he brings to his skating, Ohno and Julianne won the competition!

Ohno has set a new goal: He wants to help change people's lives. He travels around the country speaking to middle school students about how to make positive choices and live a healthy lifestyle.

His basic message is that "to be at your smartest, you have to be active."

HEALTHY KIDS

What's it take to live a healthy lifestyle? It's not as hard as you think! Kid Reporters talk to celebrities, athletes, chefs, and First Lady Michelle Obama about how healthy living leads to happy living. Gets tips, recipes, and more in the Healthy Kids Special Report.

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    Olympics, Determination and Perseverance, Individuality, Leadership and Responsibility, Pride and Self-Esteem
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The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.