Olympic gold medalist, Yale student Nathan Chen hopes to inspire kids with new picture book

DARIEN — Though he has an Olympic gold medal and three World Figure Skating Championships to his name, Nathan Chen admitted to a young audience at the Darien Library that he still gets scared sometimes.

“Any time before I stepped on the ice, I’ve felt nervous,” said Chen, who is also studying statistics and data science at Yale University in New Haven. “When you feel nervous, tell yourself, ‘No, I'm not nervous. I'm strong and confident. I'm more than capable. I'm the best at what I do.’ And that will naturally present itself as actions.”

It’s a message the 23-year-old figure skater and “Quad King” hopes to pass on to young readers in his new children’s picture book, “Wei Skates On.” 

Written by Chen and illustrated by Lorraine Nam, “Wei Skates On,” is the story of a young boy who, with the help of his family, learns to overcome his fear of losing his first competition by focusing on all the things he loves about skating. 

It’s a story Chen — whose Chinese name is Wei — said was based largely on his own youth growing up in a Chinese household and the support he felt from his family, especially in the early days of his 20-year skating career.

“I was thinking it'd be really great if a younger version of myself would have had a book like this, especially being a young kid and being able to have people like (figure skaters) Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi as inspiration, how impactful that was for me as a young kid,” he said while speaking at the library recently.

The book is also a love letter to his family, especially his mother, who would sew red tags into his costumes for luck, just like Wei’s in the book. It’s something he hopes other parents can connect with.

“As a parent, they are a very important part of their kids’ support network,” Chen said. “My mom didn't know how to skate, but she was the biggest support person that I had. She doesn't have to be an expert in skating to be supportive.”

Chen said he hoped young readers would take away that it’s okay to ask others for help.

“It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help and finding people that you love and trust is really important and can really help you get through really tough times,” he said. “It certainly was the case for me.”

Though aspiring figure skater Elle Ducksworth, 7, may have won her first competition at 3 years old — the same age Chen started skating — her favorite part of the book was watching Wei learn that winning was not the most important thing. 

“It’s okay if you don’t win,” she said. “You just do it if you like it.”

Ducksworth was one of more than 170 people in attendance at Chen’s storytime and signing at the Darien Public Library. According to her mother Stefannie Ducksworth, the young girl was beside herself, jumping up and down, at the chance to meet the champion figure skater.

“It was encouraging for her to see that everybody else struggles,” her mother Stefannie Ducksworth said. “It's great to be able to relate to a book and put it into perspective from me skating and her skating, seeing that there's other hardships in skating… and then how it can also be applied to life.”

The library’s children’s event coordinator Samantha Cardone said it was amazing to see the children so excited and engaged for the Darien Library’s first in-person author’s event since the pandemic began.

“We’re just so happy to bring people back to the library and to meet amazing people like Nathan,” Cardone said. ‘(The kids) were just very genuine. I love this community and I’m so glad we were able to share this with them.”