Abu Dhabi will be hosting the 2019 Special Olympics World Games. Given it will be the first time it will be staged in the Middle East, what do you make of the UAE’s vision?
For me, I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi and it’s super exciting. I’m beyond thrilled to be part of the board of directors at the Special Olympics and to see the World Games come together. It’s the commitment from the UAE, who are saying ‘you know what, we’re ready to host it’. To be honest they are ready to host it now. They have the facilities that are just so prestige and amazing and it’s exciting. I wish it could be 2019 right now because it’s going to be a big thing to see more than 170 countries together and to use the world united is going to be amazing.
You was elected to the Board of Directors of Special Olympics International in 2010, how are you enjoying this role and how important is it to continue raising the awareness of sport?
You know it’s actually incredible to be part of the International Board. To be able to continue this movement that was started 40 years ago by the founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in her backyard and to see it develop and help over five million athletes is truly magnificent. Still today, we are continuing that and in 2019, the Special Olympics World Games will be held in Abu Dhabi where there will be thousands of athletes.
It is incredible to be part of this movement and increasing the awareness of growing this brand with intellectual athletes with disabilities. I’ve seen it has had a major impact not just those who compete but those without intellectual disabilities. They are the ones who come to the stadiums and watch our athletes and enjoy all the games they see. It really resonates and has a positive impact on what life is all about; that we are united as one through sport.
You had an illustrious career, winning so many medals during your figure skating career. Now nearly a decade after your last competitive performance, how do you look back at your career?
When people say to me how many championships I’ve won, I say nine Nationals and five Worlds.. the list goes on. Those were incredible years during my skating career. I feel very fortunate to have had an amazing career. Still now, looking back, I still cannot believe that was me who achieved so much success.
What was the most special medal you had won and why?
It’s hard to say which competition meant the most to me. Every year and championship was unique and special. I think looking back – perhaps winning in the US Nationals in my hometown in Los Angeles in 2002 was pretty special.
How did you get into the sport?
I got involved from a young age. My older brother played hockey and that’s when I started initially skating. At first, my parents said I was too young to do this. But I really wanted to do this so I begged them and they finally gave in and allowed me to skate. That was just the beginning and it was love at first sight for me.
Till today, you are regarded as one of the most successful figure skaters in American skaters…
I really don’t know how that feels. I think in every competition, I just loved the adrenaline and loved competing. The most important thing was, that I loved challenging myself. Looking back, it is a bit of a shock that I completed in so many competitions – from the Worlds to the Nationals. I feel very fortunate to be so successful.
You also had the opportunity of working with the former President, Barack Obama and ex-First Lady Michelle, how was that experience?
To say I had the honour with Barack Obama and his wife Michelle was truly magnificent. I was appointed on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in fighting obesity in America and it’s a role I look back with such pride by helping them spread the message of being active.
As people, they are really close as a family. Both lead by example. When I was with Michelle, she would always talk on the importance of being active. In these days, there are kids all over the world who are glued to the television for hours or playing computer games. Michelle would also constantly remind her daughter that they had to go out and be active and do more regular excercises.
What other sports you do enjoy watching?
I love all sports. I’m an athlete and my passion will always be there. I watch basketball, baseball, figure skating, you name it – I watch it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s winter or summer sports, all are very exciting to watch. When you’re talking of individuals, I think people like Serena and Venus Williams are just remarkable while I love watching Michael Phelps – he’s a super athlete.