Figure Skating

Mirai Nagasu saves family restaurant by feeding 1000s of health workers: "I'm not Lady Gaga but..." 

Figure skater Mirai Nagasu talks saving her family's sushi restaurant, feeding front line staff, and quarantine with her boyfriend Michael and their two dogs Pika and Lincoln in this exclusive interview.

By Ken Browne ·

USA figure skater Mirai Nagasu is who she is because of the family restaurant.

Her mother, Ikuko, and father, Kiyoto, came to the U.S. from Japan and spent a lifetime turning 'Sushi Kiyosuzu' in Arcadia, Los Angeles, into a successful business.

And supporting Mirai's figure skating career.

"In the Nagasu family there were always two kids even though I was the only child. The restaurant was my dad’s baby," says Mirai.

"Growing up my dad didn’t really have time to come to my competitions," she remembers, "he only took time off to go to the Olympics and he joked that because I went to the Olympics twice he had to take two vacations!"

"But I know that I would not have gotten to the level that I’m at without my parents."

Figure skater Mirai Nagasu on saving her family's sushi restaurant

Mirai Nagasu grew up in her parent's sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. She s...

So when the restaurant was in danger of going out of business during the COVID-19 crisis, Mirai saw an opportunity to give back:

To her parents, and to the community.

Through the 'Power of Ten Initiative', this Olympian has helped keep her parents' business open and provide a valuable service delivering meals to overwhelmed hospital staff on the front lines of a global pandemic.

Mirai spoke to Olympic Channel about how she's used her platform as an Olympic medal-winning figure skater for good.

And she introduces us to her dogs Pika and Lincoln while her boyfriend Michael tells us what it's like to be in lock-down with an Olympian.

Spoiler: "Exhausting!"

Saving jobs, saving businesses, saving lives

Things looked bad for Ikuko, and Kiyoto Nagasu when restaurant dining rooms were shut across America and the world because of the coronavirus outbreak.

"They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to make rent," says Mirai.

Stuck in quarantine in Boston on the other side of the country, she knew she had to help somehow.

When a friend told her of an initiative that helps restaurants and provides meals for hospitals she said yes immediately.

"I had to push them a little to do 'Power of Ten' which is an initiative that provides $10,000, so that helps pay for 10 employees and they make 1000 meals a week for healthcare staff in hospitals."

"Now I wouldn’t say that they’re thriving, but they’re staying afloat which is great."

And delivering food to hospitals is a way to help out the people who are saving lives and risking their own health to help others.

"I’m seeing healthcare workers who are rightfully worried and anything that we can do on our side to take a little bit of the stress from them," says Mirai enthusiastically.

"To be able to bring meals to their workplace so they don’t have to worry about that is something within our power."

"Whatever we can do to help, we should take the initiative to do."

Without Power of Ten, "I don’t really even know what they would have done," Nagasu says.

The family's story made the front page of the LA Times and she's been blown away by the response.

"It’s been mind-blowingly nice," beams Nagasu.

"To have our story on the front page of the LA Times ... That is really really cool, and to be able to be their voice has meant so much to me, I never really thought I could use my skating and my platform to make a difference like this."

"Over the last couple of days people have come together to raise $10,000 which equals one extra week that a restaurant can provide these meals for healthcare workers.

"And we’re really looking to expand past my parents’ restaurant in the Los Angeles area."

The initiative was started by chef Eric Bruner-Yang who owns six restaurants in the Washington DC area, he needed help, "and wanted to help others," says 27-year-old figure skater Nagasu.

"He started with $70,000 from angel donations, and now Power of Ten has raised over $200,000 and it’s in seven different cities, which is huge and for my parents to be the first in the LA area, I think that is really cool."

Best friend Michelle helps out

As part of her outreach, Nagasu has enlisted friends and online connections, her best friend Michelle Hamano has come up big.

"My parents aren’t able to do the deliveries so my high school best friend is doing them," says Mirai.

"I’ve actually known her since… around the same time that I was born because we’re both Japanese American and she understands the importance of the second generations coming together to help our parents and to be their voices."

"She's helping them with interviews, and deliveries, and I mean, thank you Michelle for keeping my parents sane!"

Mirai Nagasu skates at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena, South Korea. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Mirai Nagasu: Growing up in the family restaurant

Sushi Kiyosuzu was a second home for a young Mirai Nagasu.

"Wake up, go to skating, go to school, go back to the restaurant, go to ballet or piano, go back to the restaurant and fall asleep there."

That was just another day in Arcadia for her.

Mirai would be up at 5am for figure skate practice, but dad would already be up and gone to the fish market.

"He wakes up at 4:30 so that he can go to the fish market and hand-select his fish."

Mirai Nagasu, the first American figure skater to land a triple Axel at the Olympics, knows that she owes a lot to her upbringing.

"I definitely learned my parents’ work ethic from watching them work so hard at the restaurant, I mean my skating was important to all of us and it was a family effort."

Mirai Nagasu first American woman to land triple axel in Olympics

Mirai Nagasu opens her routine to “Miss Saigon” with a powerful triple axel...

Nagasu learned the value of hard work in Sushi Kiyosuzu:

"I would place the chopsticks for customers, wipe down, I was the busboy, I would wash dishes, I would get so excited for a quarter an hour."

"The restaurant was right next to a 7-11 so as soon as I had enough money, it was candy bars!"

The lessons she took from her parents saw Mirai through some tough times.

"I think my parents have definitely pushed me to work harder than anyone else and to try to the best of my ability to rise from adversity."

And there has been plenty of that in Nagasu's career.

At Vancouver 2010 she finished in fourth place, agonizingly close to a medal.

Then she wasn't selected to represent the U.S. at Sochi 2014, despite coming third at the 2014 U.S. champs.

Mirai had to dig deep, train harder and made the team four years later, winning bronze in the team event and achieving a lifelong dream of standing on an Olympic podium.

It’s how you react and rise above it that makes who you are." - Mirai Nagasu

The immigrants' daughter

The Nagasus are an example of how immigration enriches society.

As a proud daughter of immigrants, she also recognises how she can be a voice for an important group of people whose voices are often not heard.

She also helps her parents with social media and with the language barrier.

"I think I speak on behalf of ‘mom and pop restaurants’ where, as a child of immigrants, my parents’ first language is not English, I think sometimes it's really hard for them to figure things out."

And she provides technical support too.

"My parents can barely figure out the internet, my mom, I mean Google is the easiest thing to use and my mom is like ‘Google is so high-tech..’ I mean it’s not second nature to them."

Beyond the family unit, Mirai also felt so much support from the wider community when she competed at the Vancouver 2010 and PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games.

"When I went to the Olympics, to see my community come together and kind of claim me: 'oh Mirai grew up in Arcadia, she went to elementary, middle school, high school here, she has Arcadia blood.'"

"That has always meant so much to me even though I train in Colorado."

Team Event Women's Free Skating - Figure Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replays

This event was held at the Gangneung Ice Arena on 12 February 2018.

The American Dream

So as owners of a successful restaurant with an Olympic medal-winning daughter, is it fair to say that the Nagasus are living their version of the American Dream?

"That’s so cute," Mirai reacts to the question.

"I’ve asked my parents would they ever move back to Japan, which is where they’re from and they’ve always said, we love the U.S. because of the freedom."

"We love going to the supermarket in whatever we want to wear, we can wear our sweat pants, we can look like hot messes, and we love having the space to be who we want to be."

"I think that, especially in Japan which is such a small country, they want to have the room to have the house that they have now, so…"

"And they live in California, the weather is amazing there, so I think that they’re overall very happy."

Giving back

Now Nagasu is happy to be able to give something back.

"I mean, I’m not Lady Gaga but I definitely loved her live stream concert, Iatched my favourite celebrities like John Legend and Sam Smith do a collaboration song."

"Nobody wants to hear me sing and I’m terrible at off-ice but for me to be able to use my speaking voice to do Power of Ten and to do these interviews and communicate with my parents and call all the suppliers and make sure that they’re set."

"Then that’s what I can do, so whatever is within my power I want to do right now."

"I’m able to give back to my community and give back to healthcare workers, the Methodist hospital, the Asian youth centre, the Foothill Unity centre, that means so much to me because it feels like I’m able to help."

"Where during the Olympics they were supporting me, now I can provide the foundations to support my community," she says from quarantine in Boston.

Top 5 women performances in Pyeongchang

Short clip, featuring performances of Marit Bjoergen, Chloe Kim, the South ...

The figure skating world contributes

But Mirai Nagasu isn't the only figure skater getting active during these challenging times.

'Blades for the Brave,' brought together some big names like Johnny Weir, Jason Brown, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Kurt Browning, Nancy Kerrigan, and many more.

They raised funds for coronavirus relief with an online livestream event in mid-April.

And on April 25 Kaitlyn Weaver hosted 'Open Ice' where Olympic figure skaters raised money for the UN Foundation's COVID-19 Response Fund.

Mirai feels proud of her fellow skaters.

"To see the skating community come together, not just once, but twice to raise money for COVID, I think we’re all trying to do our part in order to give back to the community."

"Especially because we’re so used to being supported by other people."

"Our entire careers are based on the support our fans give us and the messages they send us, so what we can do to give back has meant a lot."

"And I really enjoyed Gracie hosting ‘Blades for the Brave’, to see skaters outside of their comfort zone of the ice rink was kind of fun."

"Caitlyn Weaver put together ‘Open Ice’ with a bunch of other skaters too and I was excited to be a supporter of that."

Despite being away from the ice, the figure skating world is unified in wanting to help while in quarantine.

Mirai Nagasu dogs

So how is Mirai handling quarantine?

"I have my boyfriend here and two dogs, I think they’re enjoying it because they get to sleep all day and get long walks."

Olympic Channel asks to meet the dogs and her boyfriend Michael, and Mirai is happy to oblige.

"So this is Lincoln," Mirai says with both arms full of adorable doggos, "I've had him since 2014, and then this is Pika, which is short for Pikachu."

"Pika is actually from Haiti, she was a street dog, from the Haiti Street Dog Project, she was a lot skinnier back then her but now she has a more sedentary lifestyle."

Michael adopted Pika which a friend connected to the project found as a stray.

Mirai Nagasu at home with dogs Pika (Left) and Lincoln (Right).

Mirai Nagasu boyfriend

When Mirai calls in boyfriend Michael, our first question is: what's it like living in lockdown with a famous figure skater?

"It’s pretty spectacular apart from when she wants to go work out four times a day," he says.

"And your legs are dead and your back is tired and she’s like “what are you complaining about, you didn’t even do half the workout."

"And then we’ll go on a mile or two run at the end of the day. So it’s a lot of fun but for people like me that have not been in sport for a couple of years it’s, it’s been exhausting."

With all the stories of relationship strain during quarantine, how are Mirai and Michael handling it?

"Ya, we’re good..." 

“I think he’s only saying that because I’m sitting right next to him,” Mirai jokes.

The couple are watching a lot of figure skating, Michael is an ex competitive ice dancer and now coaches figure skating full time.

“So I do watch a lot of skating," he says.

"But not to the same degree as Mirai because Mirai will put on any sort of skating that she gets a chance to, whenever it is on, so I kind of get dragged into that, but I still enjoy it."

Both laugh.

So who does Mirai like to watch?

"I cannot watch myself, it’s so ingrained in myself to pick out my mistakes, any time I watch myself I’ll say oh, I did this wrong, I could have done this better."

"I love Kristi Yamaguchi’s Olympic performance, I think that, although levels weren’t a thing back then, her technical difficulty was up to par even though she was considered an artistic skater, I like to reminisce in the past as well."

Kristi Yamaguchi reveals her pick to win Dancing with the stars

Olympic figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi won the popular dancing co...

The world outside skating

But has this global time out given the couple a chance to do anything different?

"We’ve improved our culinary skills," says Michael.

Mirai nods, "I mean things like, baking, that’s not something I was ever interested in before, but like Michael said, now I’m all about cooking, I’m all about baking, things that I never really had time for in the past because I was so focused on skating"

"Being able to see the world outside of skating has been really… a refreshing change," Mirai says.

"I don’t think I’ve ever done dishes as much as I’ve done these past couple of weeks," says Michael in a mock-weary voice.

"Or done as many YouTube workouts, but altogether it’s been really great."

The couple spent their birthdays together during quarantine, Michael turned 28 and Mirai 27.

He arranged a cinema date just for the two of them on her birthday:

What's next for Mirai Nagasu?

What about when all this is over?

"This quarantine has really made me miss the ice rink," she says.

"I think that when you’re in full-on training some days it’s the last place you want to be when you feel tired to your very core, but I definitely miss skating, it’s a bug that’s hard to get rid of."

Could we possibly see Mirai Nagasu at Beijing 2022?

"I don’t know that it’s within my body to… nothing is impossible, like Michael said I guess I really like to push myself past my limits."

So that's not a no then.

She also gives us a little glimpse into a possible future career:

"I don’t think quads are going to be in my forte ever, but maybe I can help teach them some day."

It feels like Mirai has done a lot of growing up and is more at peace with who she is, she's learned lessons, but also figured things out for herself.

"Time is money is what my mom always said to me growing up, these days I still believe that but at the same time there are things more important than money… like happiness."

"Which is not a forever attainable thing, it goes and comes in waves and I think that’s something that I wish I knew when I was younger."