The upcoming Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, a South Korean alpine town, will be a homecoming of sorts for two American athletes.
Henry Meece, who will take part in snowboarding, and Tae Hemsath, who will compete in snowshoeing, are both South Korean adoptees representing their adopted home from Jan. 29-Feb. 5 at the sporting competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities.
This is the first trip to South Korea for both since they left the country years ago. Meece, 23, was adopted when he was six months old and grew up in Portland, Oregon. Hemsath, 37, grew up in New York after getting adopted in 1978.
At a press conference Monday in Seoul, Meece and Hemsath both spoke of their wish to meet their biological parents.
“I will probably see them someday,” said Meece. “(But) I am not sure I am going to see them on this trip or whenever I come back here again.”
Hemsath, who was actually born in Pyeongchang, said returning to her birthplace “means a lot.”
“I very want to know my biological parents,” said Hemsath, who has an older sister who was also adopted from South Korea. “Hopefully, soon.”
Meece started snowboarding on his high school team in Portland when he was 19. He had been skiing before then, but he said he was glad he made the switch.
“I wasn’t sure if I liked it when I first switched to snowboarding,” Meece said. “I ended up liking it because I got better over time. That’s why I am on the Special Olympics team this year. I’d like to win the gold medal.”
Hemsath is a multi-sports athlete who has taken part in bowling, basketball, football and track and field. She said she picked up snowshoeing at the recommendation of a coach in New York, and it has taken her to her first World Winter Games, after more than two decades of competing in Special Olympics at the state level. It’s an experience that she called “exciting.”
Chris Hahn, head of the U.S. delegation to PyeongChang, said he hoped his athletes will enjoy “truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to change the world.
“We hope that our stay in Korea will have a large impact upon Korean society in terms of viewing and working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and provide opportunities for them,” Hahn said.
“When (the athletes) return to their home communities, the things that they will have witnessed and accomplished will change their lives forever, and in turn, they will change those with whom they come in contact.” (Yonhap News)