The cause close to Kwan's heart
DANA POINT, Calif. – Figure skating was Michelle Kwan's calling card ever since the day she watched Brian Boitano skate in the Olympics.
"For the next 20 years, I never really had to ask myself what I wanted to be," Kwan said. "I wanted to be the next champion."
Kwan told her story during Wednesday's opening night of espnW's fourth annual Women + Sports Summit at the St. Regis Monarch Beach. She was one a half-dozen, high-level athletes on the program for the event, which gathers women and men interested in the evolution of women's sports.
Kwan certainly found success as a five-time world champion and two-time Olympic medalist. But when she retired from competition in 2006, Kwan realized the focus that had sustained her for so long needed another target.
With that, Kwan fully realized what it meant to have a platform. She said there were plenty of opportunities, but her heart led her to the Special Olympics.
"You don't have to be an Olympian or a professional athlete to benefit from sports," Kwan said. "We probably don't realize the transformative power we have through sports."
Kwan took the stage with Special Olympics advocate Patrick McClenahan and Special Olympians Debi Anderson and Dustin Plunkett. Los Angeles will host the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2015, and McClenahan is the event's CEO.
The Special Olympics brings sport to millions of people with intellectual disabilities. Plunkett, a gifted public speaker, said the organization allowed him to share a stage with NBA player Yao Ming at a competition in China.
"My knees were knocking so loud," Plunkett said.
For Kwan, her choice has been validated over and over. She was reminded of a moment when she saw a Special Olympian crying with elation on the medal stand after winning and event.
"It was amazing because I've experienced joy through sports," Kwan said. "And to see these athletes have this chance is really what it's all about."