A visit from South Korea

by Lori Heller

Being the relatively new runner that I am, still needing coaching and encouraging, I recently found myself as the head coach and cheerleader. The Bement (Mike Walsh) 5k was scheduled to take place during the first weekend of a two-week visit from our “Honorary son” from South Korea. Nicholas and I thought since he is a pro baseball player in Korea, he might enjoy a little run to celebrate Nicholas’ birthday!  

Kim Joohyun (Kim J to us) graciously accepted our challenge, warning us that baseball players don’t run miles, they do sprints. I told him I would only run as fast as he wanted so we could stay together. It was a beautiful, crisp morning on race day with little flurries of snow intermittently falling on our faces. Kim J was so excited to be running his first race, and like all of us, we started out strong the first mile. I could feel him slowing and breathing heavier about the half way point. I slowed my pace and kept cheerfully encouraging him and trying to keep his mind off his pain. As we entered the park, the snowflakes were coming down beautifully.

To hear Kim J tell the next part of the story is hilarious! He later told my boys, “Here I am, struggling to breathe and keep running, and here’s Lori running sideways and backwards, taking a video and laughing and telling me, ‘Keep it up, you’re doing great!’ I thought I was going to die.”

Tom Gelsthorpe and Nicholas came running back to join us at the end of the park, which gave us a new spark of enthusiasm. (And another video opportunity!)

Kim J dug deep and we charged for the Finish Line. He finished his first 5K in 28:38. Even though we didn’t receive finisher medals, he wore Nicholas’ 1st Place medal as proudly as if he had won it himself! Believe me, the story doesn’t end here. The next day, Kim J had me out running sprints with him, showing me how baseball players work out. He paid me back!! Kim J also got to see all of Nicholas’ and Michele’s medals which hang proudly all over their house. I could see he really wanted to get a medal himself. And as luck would have it, we had planned a long weekend in Clearwater, FL to visit Kent’s parents. Nicholas was running the Say No To Drugs 10K while we were there and there was also a 5K race. You guessed it, I signed Kim J and myself up for the 5K, knowing there was a Finisher medal for everyone. He took the suggestion well and added, “This time we run faster time.”

The morning of the race was warm and sunny and 2,000 runners were anxious for the start. This route takes us through downtown Clearwater, up and over the huge Causeway Bridge, and a half mile down the road you turn around and come back up and over the bridge a second time! (Nicholas and the other 10k runners keep running all the way to Clearwater Beach, down the beach a ways, and then come back.) The energy and excitement of the race takes you over the bridge the first time, but coming back for the second climb is challenging. Kim J was falling behind me and he kept saying, “Go, Lori, go.” But I refused to leave him, and I knew if I didn’t power him up that bridge that our time would not be faster like he wanted it to be. So we pushed on.

Coming down the last stretch, Kim J saw the Finish Line clock turn to 27. He looked at me with pain and excitement on his face. “We have to hurry!” I told him, “Homerun time – let’s go!” We finished in 27:41. That was almost a whole minute off his first 5K time. I was soo proud of him.

He put his medal on over the biggest smile. We then got to cheer Nicholas through his finish of the 10K. When the awards were handed out, Nicholas and I each won 2nd Place in our age categories. That is the biggest medal I’ve ever won! The three of us enjoyed a huge, joyful pancake breakfast with all the trimmings. Kim J wore his medal the rest of our trip, he was so proud! He now wants to run a lot in Buson so he can come back next year and run more races (faster) with us.

I end this sweet story with the sound of David’s voice in my head, “You must get faster, you must get faster for the Illinois Relay!” And, BAM, I’m forced back to reality, and once again the roles are reversed. I definitely need all of my dear running club friends to keep encouraging and challenging me to do my best!

----- Happy New Year running one and all!! -----

A little background on Kim J:

Mattoon was host to the Cal Ripken Jr. World Series Tournament for four years 17 years ago. We were one of the host families for the Korea team in 2000, the players were 12 years old, spoke no English, had never been out of their country, and were placed in family homes. We housed Kim J and Im Taehoon for two weeks. Nicholas, 10, was their batboy. We communicated by pointing, but all the boys had the International language of Nintendo to keep them entertained.

Korea won the International division and then placed 2nd overall. Kim J was very quiet and reserved then, but as he left he gave us huge hugs and said the only thing he knew in English, “I come back.”

Twelve years later he came back to visit for 10 days. He worked hard on his English and loved seeing everyone again. He was playing Pro Baseball in 2015 when Kent & I went to Buson, South Korea to watch him play 5 games in 7 days. That was exciting!

Then the next year his team came to Arizona for spring training. Kent & I couldn’t resist going to see him again. He started working on his English every day and surprised us this December with a visit for two weeks. He truly has become part of the family. We try to give him experiences he’ll remember and now running is a new one for him. 

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of In Passing.