Children in wheelchairs cheerfully zoom around the new playground in Fremont’s Central Park.
Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi’s dream of a playground where all children, including those with disabilities, can play together has become a reality.
The one-acre Always Dream PlayPark, which was funded by Yamaguchi and her Always Dream Foundation, opened on Jan. 16 in her hometown of Fremont.
“I keep pinching myself and thinking, ‘Wow, we’re responsible for all this.’ So many people pulled this together with laughter and smiles. That’s what it’s all about,” said Yamaguchi, the former Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, at the invitation-only, ribbon-cutting event.
The $750,000 playground, which has been in the works for three years, features a slide with a wheelchair-accessible ramp, swings with seat belts and steel drums that allow deaf children to feel the vibrations. Other features include a merry-go-round and a play area with water misters.
Yamaguchi said that the goal of the playground is to embrace children with a range of physical, developmental and sensory disabilities.
“The playground is a place where kids of all abilities can play side by side, enjoy the outdoors and be active. There’s something in the playground for everyone,” she said.
Yamaguchi’s sister, Lori, a member of the Always Dream Foundation, added, “It’s been great seeing the kids all playing together. That’s why we did it. There’s that sense of inclusiveness for all the kids. We’re really pleased with the way it came out.”
Swinerton Builders provided the construction of the playground on a pro bono basis.
The idea for the playground arose from a summer camp program in Hawai‘i sponsored by the Always Dream Foundation, which paired disabled children with non-disabled children.
The Fremont-based Bay Area Outreach Recreational Program was one of the organizations that helped put the finishing touches on the playground prior to the grand opening. Children from the organization, who were all in wheelchairs, helped to fill in the sandbox.
Yamaguchi said that the foundation is continuing to raise money to cover the cost of the park. The foundation has raised $350,000 so far and will continue to raise funds to reach its goal of $750,000.
“We’ve been raising money for three years. We’re still looking for support in the community,” Yamaguchi said.
She added that a fund-raising event, “Dancing the Night Away,” is planned for this spring. This will be the second year that the foundation has held the event.
Yamaguchi is now living in the East Bay city of Alamo after moving from South Carolina, where her husband Bret Hedican played hockey with the Carolina Hurricanes prior to his recent retirement.
“I love being back in the Bay Area. I definitely like being home again,” said Yamaguchi, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 6.
She said she had an enjoyable time during her recent appearance on the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” where she snagged the coveted mirror-ball trophy.
“It was crazy and exhausting. I credit my dancing partner, Mark Ballas. It was great,” she said.
Yamaguchi has been maintaining a busy schedule. She is preparing to head to Vancouver in February to cover the Winter Olympics as a special correspondent for the “Today Show” and NBC Sports. She will also be doing a skating talk show on the Universal Sports network.