Apolo Ohno, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Alex and Maia Shibutani are “Leading with a Champion Mind”


After a challenging year of navigating the “double pandemic” of COVID-19 and the rise of anti-Asian hate, AARP brought together generations of Asian American Olympians who embody resilience and excellence on December 16 for “Leading with a Champion Mind.”  The live virtual panel celebrated the strength of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and shared how to be more resilient.

Olympic gold medalist speed skater Apolo Ohno moderated the uplifting conversation with panelists Olympic gold medalist figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and two-time Olympic bronze medalist figure skaters, Alex and Maia Shibutani.

According to AARP, mindfulness can help one be more resilientbecause it keeps people in touch with what’s happening in the moment. Whenever someone practices mindfulness, it bolsters and protects them against feeling powerless and lacking control, especially during challenging events.

“Something that has worked for me, that I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate back when I was training, is the ability to pause and reflect,” said Apolo Ohno, the most decorated U.S. male Winter Olympian of all time. “We are living in a time where we’re always reacting to things. We can have more mindfulness over our thoughts and actions. Sometimes we react in a way that doesn’t truly suit the outcome that we desire. We can [learn to] zoom out to gain a better perspective.”

Resilient people often seek social support to help them overcome a difficult situation. They lean on family and friends or request assistance from experts.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A lot of times we try to take things on ourselves. I’ve learned along the way that there are many people willing to be mentors,” said Kristi Yamaguchi, founder of Always Dream, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance early childhood literacy. “We are afraid to bother someone or ask for something, but I am certainly not where I am [today] because I did it on my own. All along the way, there’s always been someone there as a support system. Surround yourself with some quality people and you’ll learn quality.”

Although resilience is a quality that you possess, you can work on becoming more resilient by adopting certain habits or practices.

“Knowing the direction that you want to head in is important, then break it down into small goals so that you have a sense of time and direction,” said Maia Shibutani, who, with her brother Alex, was the second sibling duo in the history of the sport to win an Ice Dance medal. “We both find it very helpful to communicate with each other. If you don’t have someone that you feel that you can talk to, journaling can also be incredibly helpful and important so that you make sure that you’re reflecting and checking in with yourself.”

When many things are beyond someone’s control, they can still make decisions that impact their lives that may help boost their resilience and help them learn to cope better with adversity.  When they tap into their reserves of mental toughness and inner strength, they can feel more positive and in control.

“For everything that we do, we set a feasible plan. When you have a long term goal that you’re trying to reach, whether it’s happiness or fulfillment, or the next chapter of your life, there are certain checkpoints along the way,” said Alex Shibutani, who along with his sister Maia, became the first ice dancers of Asian descent to medal at the Olympics. “And Maia will hold me accountable. Having someone who you feel you can share your fears with, and also celebrate your successes with along the way, makes it feel less isolating, especially during this time when we are so physically isolated from each other.”

To be a part of their journey and hear about other upcoming events, or to access this recorded event, follow the AARP AAPI community on Facebook (@AARPAAPI) and Twitter(@AARPAAPI).