One-on-one with Apolo

The Olympic speed skater turned author talks about his new book, what’s on the horizon, and what he’s thankful for

By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly

Apolo Ohno signs copies of his new book, “Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday,” at the Federal Way Costco on Nov. 14. (Photo by Evangeline Cafe/NWAW)

He has spent the last decade basking in the glow of the international limelight, racing his way into the history books to become the most decorated Winter Olympian in U.S. history. Now, Apolo Ohno is breaking the ice, opening up about the mother he never knew, his bumpy road to success, and his philosophy of living with “zero regrets.”

The eight-time Olympic medalist received a warm welcome when he promoted his new book, “Zero Regrets: Be Greater Than Yesterday,” in Federal Way on Nov. 14. The hometown visit was one of 20 stops in Ohno’s initial eight-day book tour across the nation.

“It was great to come back to Federal Way,” Ohno told Northwest Asian Weekly. “There were a lot of old friends who came out, people that I haven’t seen for a long time. It was an important time for me to see everyone there, and it was a great experience to see the area where I grew up, where I went to school. It was fantastic.”

This week, Ohno will begin the second leg of his book tour — visiting more than 30 cities in less than 10 days.

‘Zero Regrets’

"Zero Regrets" is published by Atria and retails for $26.

Ohno began writing his book immediately after the Vancouver Games, where he garnered three Olympic medals. He wrote the book under the guidance of former Los Angeles Times writer Alan Abrahamson. The collaboration allowed Ohno to balance writing the book with his busy post-Olympic schedule. “I had [Abrahamson] come live with me. It was pretty intense. I look back, and I don’t know how I did it,” he said, laughing.

Through his book, the speed skater felt the need to share his deeply personal story of struggle and triumph with people inside and outside of the sport.

“The book is very important to share for a number of reasons,” he said. “First, I needed to make sure that whatever direction I was going next [in my life], I could experience it with everyone. Second, I wanted to showcase what I learned in my sport. I wanted to share my philosophy and show people my drive so that they can also succeed.”

Ohno didn’t just write about his glory on the ice. He also opened up about the disconnect between him and his mother, who left him when he was an infant. He wrote about the hardships his father faced as a single parent, and the tumultuous relationship they shared during Ohno’s teenage years.

He also discussed his struggle with self-doubt after finishing in last place at the 1998 Olympic trials and his decision to turn things around.  Ohno said some readers might be surprised to learn how much he had to fail before he could succeed.

“I think, like in anyone’s career and life, those failures, those times when we don’t get the results we want are the times that truly makes us strong. It’s how we adapt to those kinds of situations that we learn to be our best. Honestly, I’ve learned more from the times I’ve lost than from the times I’ve won. I think that’s important to know and to understand,” said Ohno.

Ohno’s father

Ohno also discussed the challenges that his father, Yuki Ohno, faced as a Japanese immigrant.  His father left Japan after finishing high school, much against his family’s wishes. He began a new life in the Pacific Northwest speaking little English. He assumed jobs as a janitor, a busboy, and a dishwasher to make ends meet. After pursuing a career in accounting, he changed paths and followed his passion as a hair stylist. He worked tirelessly in running his own business and perfecting his craft. Ohno said that his father’s ambition and perseverance have inspired him to succeed in his own endeavors. He has long credited his father for his Olympic success and even dedicated his book to him.

“My dad’s courage and sacrifice make me feel amazing,” he said. “My father has always been a fighter. He’s always been the one to be all that he can be. I think those Asian Americans who come from overseas into a country that is very foreign to them and uncomfortable are incredible. They need to make [opportunities] happen in order to succeed and survive. That’s inspirational.”

In his book, Ohno admitted that his relationship with his father was not always smooth. His father engaged Ohno in sports and after-school activities to keep him busy while he worked long hours.

Ohno was a rebellious teenager. Once, he even snuck over to a friend’s house after Ohno’s father dropped him off at the airport.  Ohno was supposed to catch a flight to a speed skating training facility in New York. His father was furious after learning that Ohno never went to New York, As a result, he bought tickets for both himself and his son to ensure that Ohno followed through with his goals.

Ohno said that he is thankful for his father’s faith in him, especially since he has taken an unconventional career path. Ohno encourages other Asian Americans to follow their passion, even if it does not necessarily align with the wishes of others.

“I think we are all unique, and we need to remain so that we’re able to capitalize on our talents. That’s what is important. We don’t always need to follow trends. We should follow whatever is in our heart. And if we follow [our heart] with passion, we will reach success.”

The next step

While Ohno travels the nation promoting his new book, he is looking ahead to the next chapter in his life. Although he has not decided whether to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, he has decided that he will keep busy.

“I’d love to write more books,” he said. “Films and TV have always been on the horizon with me. I always want to be involved in sports. I have 8 Zone (a dietary supplement) that I’m working on and passionate about. There are different avenues that I want to explore and now that I have the time I want to pursue them.”

In the meantime, Ohno will continue promoting his new book, hoping to inspire others to live a life with no regrets.

Giving thanks

Ohno will likely spend this Thanksgiving away from home, but he’s not complaining. He has always taken comfort in the presence of his fans, who have become, in a sense, his own extended family.

“I’ll probably be spending it on the road and doing the book tour. We’re doing the second leg.”

Ohno said that regardless of where he will be spending this holiday, he will definitely be counting his blessings.

“I’m thankful to have my health and to have so many amazing people in my life. I am thankful to be on this path. I think people from all walks of life can be thankful for something.” ♦

Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.

Evangeline Cafe can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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