By Jack Tarrant
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – For Korean skier Lee Meehyun the Pyeongchang Olympics have proved a very welcome homecoming as the 23-year-old seeks to find out more about her past.
Born in South Korean, Lee was adopted by an American couple at the age of one and grew up in Pennsylvania where she experienced a strong desire to find out more about her home country and to meet her birth parents.
An avid skier since the age of three, “Jackie”, as she is known, attracted the attention of the Korean ski association and in 2015 Lee was asked to consider competing for the country of her birth.
Lee jumped at the chance to ski at a home Games in Pyeongchang and to use her raised profile to help track down her birth parents.
“I have been curious about it since I was younger and then I visited one of the adoption agencies in Seoul,” Lee told Reuters on Monday.
“I was not actively looking because I was focusing fully on my performance at the Olympics. Now that my event has finished, I am going to take further steps in looking (for my birth parents).”
Lee, who missed out on qualification for the slopestyle finals by 0.20 points, said competing at the Games for Korea had been an honor.
“I don’t have words for it. Apparently, the crowd was chanting my name,” Lee said.
“I have been trying to use this world stage event to get my story out and to inspire other adoptees as well, to try to look for (their birth parents), or are curious.”
Lee knows that finding her parents will not be easy.
“It is important to me because it is an opportunity to find them,” Lee said. “Later on I wouldn’t want any regrets, if I hadn’t tried.
“It takes two people to tango so I am willing to meet them. If they are willing then awesome.
“If they are not willing to meet then I completely, 100 percent, respect their decision because it is an emotional rollercoaster for both sides.”
Whatever the outcome, Lee can hold her head up high knowing she gave it her all on the slopes and in trying to find out about her past.
She will continue to live in Seoul, where she has been based for two years, meeting other adoptees and learning about Korean culture.
Lee will not forget her U.S. heritage and admits that she remains Western-oriented, but she believes it is possible to be both Jackie the American and Meehyun the Korean.
“I am becoming more Korean, especially with holding my name and competing under my birth name. It was one of my only ties to being Korean,” she said.
“Some people still call me Jackie and some have converted to call me Meehyun, which is amazing because I consider both of them true to me.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond)