Michelle Kwan Trades Skates For State Department Job (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Michelle Kwan Trades Skates for State Department Job

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And if you had to pick one word to describe the winter we've been living through so far what would that word be?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:00:19
Terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:00:20
Severe.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3

00:00:20
Lame.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:00:21
Awful.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD

00:00:21
Cold, icy and freezing.

SHEIR

00:00:25
Indeed. It has been quite the cold, icy and freezing winter here in the D.C. region. The average temperature at Washington National Airport was 32.2 degrees Fahrenheit in January. But there were many days -- thanks in part to that charming phenomenon known as the polar vortex -- when it was far colder than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4

00:00:42
It's 11 degrees in Northwest D.C. at 5:34, 8 degrees in Waldorf, Md., 7 in Reston, Va. Wind-chill values though, below zero around the region on this Wednesday morning. We do have a wind-chill advisory in effect until noon today.

SHEIR

00:00:55
So with this frosty winter weather likely ahead of us for at least a few more weeks, today we're bringing you our annual show about life in wintry Washington. It's a little something we call "Out in the Cold." Over the next hour we'll seek out the most bitterly cold spot in our entire region, we'll visit a frost pocket in western Maryland and find out what a frost pocket is. Plus, we'll hear how folks without homes are coping this winter, and we'll check back in with a homeless man we met more than a year ago.

SHEIR

00:01:23
But right about now you can't really do a show cold "Out in the Cold" without talking about this…

SHEIR

00:01:38
Yes, the 22nd Olympic Winter Games are on in Sochi, Russia. The games will include 98 events in seven sports, from skiing to bobsleigh, hockey to curling, to luge to skating.

SHEIR

00:01:55
This is the medal ceremony for women's figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

SHEIR

00:02:06
As we just heard, medals went to two Americans that year. A gold for Sarah Hughes and a bronze for Michelle Kwan.

SHEIR

00:02:21
At this point Kwan had already nabbed a silver medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics, along with a handful of national and world championship titles. And nowadays, with nine U.S. championships and five world championships under her belt, the 33-year-old California native resides in Washington, D.C., where she's taken on a whole new gig.

SHEIR

00:02:40
So how much are you allowed to tell us about what it is you do every day?

MS. MICHELLE KWAN

00:02:43
Everything is top secret and classified, can't tell you anything.

SHEIR

00:02:48
Okay. So Kwan is joking here. But for a lot of her colleagues, top-secret and classified is their M.O. Because since 2012, Michelle Kwan has been employed with the U.S. State Department.

KWAN

00:02:59
I work at the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau, where we focus on a lot of exchanges, building mutual understanding. We bring businesses, we bring athletes, we bring music. There's a great exchange between countries, and it's a great way to connect.1

SHEIR

00:03:14
Kwan says a lot of people think this new path is a total 180 for her, but the thing is, as a figure skater, she traveled the world representing the United States for years. And even more so when, in 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Kwan America's first public-diplomacy envoy. As such she got to travel the world, and connect with youth through sports.

KWAN

00:03:35
It was a great way to really break the ice. Talking about figure skating, and talking about the value of sports, the things that you learn. Like hard work, dedication, focus, discipline.

SHEIR

00:03:46
That same year, Michelle Kwan decided to apply her own hard work, dedication, focus and discipline, and finally finish her college education.

KWAN

00:03:56
I had enrolled at UCLA in '99 and I was continuing to compete at the world level. But I had not completed my degree. I felt like I was on a 10-year -- not tenure plan -- but a 10-year plan. So I ended up saying, okay, I've got to finish. So I finished and I although I got my master's degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, I still feel like I need to continue to learn, and that's I guess my mission in life.

SHEIR

00:04:20
Kwan says her job at the State Department has her learning new things every day, and visiting new places. And unlike her gigs as a champion figure skater, and as a public-diplomacy envoy, where she'd visit countries…

KWAN

00:04:32
Mainly where there's an ice rink.

SHEIR

00:04:35
…these days…

KWAN

00:04:35
I go to visit countries that don't have an ice rink.

KWAN

00:04:39
So are you still skating?

KWAN

00:04:40
Not very much. Because of my work here, it doesn't lend itself to having much time.

SHEIR

00:04:47
So how did you adjust with skating constantly to maybe not doing it as much? Was it sort of a cold-turkey thing?

KWAN

00:04:54
The transition, to be honest, wasn't as easy as I thought. I had prepared myself knowing that you can't skate all your life. Doing a triple-Lutz-double-toe combination, triple-triple combination, your body can only handle so much kind of pounding. But not knowing is kind of tough. Because for 20 years of my life I always knew what was ahead of me. You know, I want to be the winner of the next skating competition. And when that all ended in 2006, it was like, whoa, now what? And really, it took some time but I'm really excited on this new path that I'm on.

SHEIR

00:05:33
What are some of the things you've done here that you're most proud of?

KWAN

00:05:35
Building connections. I guess in some ways, when I was competing I was making connections, small connections, either through the audience, 15,000 people watching, millions of people watching on television. I guess being behind the scenes now and developing kind of innovative strategies and ways we can broaden our outreach -- that's something I'm very proud of.

SHEIR

00:06:00
And how do you feel now that the Olympics are coming up? Are you going to watch?

KWAN

00:06:05
I'll actually be there from opening to closing. So I'm super excited and I'll also be covering it for Fox Sports. So it's going to be nice being able to come up with new ideas of how we can cover the Olympics.

SHEIR

00:06:17
Well, Michelle Kwan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

KWAN

00:06:21
Thank you very much.

SHEIR

00:06:25
Michelle Kwan is a decorated figure skater and a senior advisor with the U.S. State Department. Not too long ago her husband, Clay Pell, announced his candidacy for governor of Rhode Island. So who knows? First lady could soon be on her resume as well.
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