Who I am
I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Growing up in a middle class family, I did not experience many challenges and enjoyed a "normal" childhood. All that changed on October 21, 1984. My father had been working in the United States since 1980. My mother, sister and I finally joined him four years later. I can still recall the night we landed in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The shock and fear that came rushing through my 13 year old mind. The safety I felt when we finally met up with my father after retrieving our baggage was short lived as my father weaved in and out of New York traffic on the way to our new home in his beat-up station wagon reeking of rotten fish. It turned out that my father was working at a fish market at the time. Our first apartment was on Cypress Avenue, separating Queens and Brooklyn, right next to the elevated subway track which M line rolled through with a thunderous soundtrack every few minutes.
On a cold day in November, I stood with my sister with confusion and dismay in front of a brick building with tall fences, barb wires, graffiti, barred windows, trash and broken glasses on the ground. My father informed us that this was our new school, P.S. 81. Although I completed one semester of 7th grade in Korea, I was put back in elementary school because I could not speak or understand English. As if that wasn't discouraging enough, I was placed in the class intended for students with learning disabilities and for those who had to repeat 6th grade. Within the first week of my new academic life in New York City, I had my lunch taken away by a classmate and a knife against my throat in the school yard during recess. I was introduced to a new nickname, "Chink" and was made aware that my eyes were funny looking. For the next few years, I struggled with emotions like fear, anger, insecurity, isolation, and hate.
While my struggles and challenges gave me plenty of reasons to dislike my new life in New York, my mother and new found friends pulled me through. It took me over an hour to read a single page of my textbook, as I had to look up every single word in my English-Korean dictionary. I had to tape record a classmate pronouncing every word on the spelling test list to not only memorize the spelling but also to acoustically recognize the words. Everything took longer for me. Everything was harder for me. However, this was completely natural. I was playing an away-game. I was no longer playing for the home team. My classmates started their day at ground zero but I started each day below zero. I had to make up the ground from negative just to compete on the even grounds. The extra work and hustle simply became the norm for me which I carried over to my career and life.
Witnessing my mother make incredible amount of sacrifices to provide for my sister and I kept me centered through some of the rough periods in my life. I learned the definition of "hard work" from my mother. She taught me the value of work ethic, pride, integrity, motivation, passion, and love through her actions...not words. I still try to live by the lessons she taught me through her actions. Especially since I became a father.
I have 2 beautiful children; Madison and Mateo. I never expected to learn so much about life and myself from my children but I do...on daily basis. My children's unfiltered comments from their observations are keen and enlightening. Absolute truths can be painful and liberating at the same time. I hope to teach my children the important values in life through my actions as my mother has done for me.
I have been blessed with a loving and supportive wife, Alexis who has been by my side since I was 23. While we got married when we were both young and naive, we grew up together. We helped each other grow into the people we are today. Our shared values deepened and our differences were bridged over the years. We reinforced each other's strengths while alleviating each other's weaknesses. Having a partner who divides your troubles by two and multiplies your joy by two has been a true blessing.
As a fundraiser and a counselor, I have worked with the Korean Heritage Camp, an organization for Korean adoptees and their families providing education on Korean culture, language, food, and history. I worked closely with the high school campers on self-identity and cross-cultural issues. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with the young campers to help them understand that they are not alone and someone else also has gone through similar challenges.
I am also passionate about the sport of Wheelchair Rugby. It has been a pleasure serve as a board member, fundraiser, and advisor for the Denver Harlequins Wheelchair Rugby team, assisting athletes with spinal cord injuries to find passion through the sport of rugby. One of my closest friends, Jason Regier has introduced me to a whole new world of overcoming challenges and hard work. Jason has thrived after his injury to compete in the world stage, winning world championships and multiple Paralympic medals. His unrelenting commitment and drive to live life to the fullest is truly inspiring. I am blessed to have him as a close friend and a partner in my personal mission.
My mother is my role model for life and my best friend is my wife Alexis. I benchmark Bruce Lee as an entrepreneur and Asian-American male role model. My favorite quote is "Never, Never, Never give up" by Winston Churchill and my favorite song is "My Way" by Frank Sinatra. I love documentaries and I am a sucker for honest, hard-hitting, and pure triumphs in competitive sports.