Panther hockey forward took long road to Kenyon
MIDDLEBURY — Panther ice hockey player Sunho Park’s path to Middlebury College took many twists and turns, but one thing that has remained constant is his passion for hockey. The junior forward, originally from Seoul, Korea, has worked his way into the Panther lineup this winter.
Park reflected on his journey from Korea, his activities off the ice and his family’s love of the game in this story provided by the Middlebury College Sports Information Department.
How did you get started in hockey, and did it shape your decision about your college education?
In elementary school, I moved to Vancouver with my mom and my sister. Many Korean families do this so the kids can speak English, a highly valued skill in Korea. From grade three to grade five, I was in Vancouver and I began playing hockey. My first year, I went to a very small school in Horseshoe Bay, playing hockey in the street. We would play in the parking lot before school, during morning recess and after school until dark. I’d been a short-track speed skater since the age of four, so I already knew how to skate. It was a nice transition.
After three years, we moved back to Korea to be with my father. I continued playing hockey, but when I started middle school, I had to choose between academics and hockey. The way the Korean education system is set up, it is extremely difficult to pursue both at the same time. So I quit hockey and was a regular student for a year. My parents felt bad watching me miss playing hockey, as well as other sports, and decided that the Korean education system of heavy memorization wasn’t right for me. We began looking at boarding schools in the United States, mainly in the New England area, which had great schools with great hockey programs.
I ended up at Eaglebrook School in Massachusetts before finishing my studies at Deerfield Academy. I was looking for a place where I could challenge myself academically, continue to play hockey and enjoy the surroundings. In the end, Middlebury seemed like a perfect spot that fit all of those criteria.
What else do you like to do at Middlebury?
I am an active member of the ping pong club. I had learned a little bit about ping pong in Korea, and then I started playing a lot (rather too much) at Deerfield. I was on the Ross Commons Residence Life Team last year and met great people through the program.
I am a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician at Middlebury Regional EMS, and I volunteer on Friday nights at Community Suppers at the Congregational Church. I started doing these this past summer, and they have made this fall semester my favorite semester at Middlebury. Both are great ways to get away from campus and involved in the community.
How did you get involved with the Community Suppers? I hear you even got the men’s hockey team to participate.
This past summer when I stayed on campus, I decided I’d go at least once a week to help out at their garden as a way to be more involved in the community outside of campus. I went to help serve at the Community Supper, and I noticed there were plenty of volunteers so I almost stopped going. One Friday, they needed an extra pair of hands in the kitchen and I jumped in. It was just simply fun at first to be in the kitchen because it was just like Dish Crew at Deerfield, a task that a group of my friends at Deerfield did to help out the kitchen staff. I kept going back and bonded with the regular volunteers who are so kind and fun to work with. Some of them even said that I can call them my “Vermont grandmothers.”
These regular volunteers do so much to make it happen every week, and they just need some help with the little things like serving the food, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, so I am happy to help. This fall, Head Coach Neil Sinclair heard of my involvement and brought up the idea of getting the team to do one of the Friday dinners. I had been hoping to do that too, so it was perfect. The people that come for the meals loved seeing the team, and the volunteers enjoyed working with the guys as well.
How do you balance your academic class load with your athletic schedule?
It’s challenging. My first two years were especially difficult with multiple science labs per semester and Chinese classes that meet daily. But with discipline, it is definitely possible. One of the most important things for me is to keep the classroom and rink separated. I do best in class and on the ice when I can keep hockey thoughts out of my head unless I am at the rink, and keep academics away from the rink.
It must be hard being so far away from your family.
If I am on the ice before practice, or alone at the rink, I do often think about family and friends from home. My family has been a huge part of this journey, and ever since Vancouver, hockey has been the center of our family in a positive way. I miss them a lot and wish they could have been more part of my Middlebury hockey experience because I know they would have loved it. Not many Korean parents support their kids pursue their non-academic passion, so I am very lucky.
Last Christmas, my first time home since I started at Middlebury, I decided to surprise each of my family members individually — including my dad at the rink during his men’s league ice time. He didn’t recognize me because he thought I was still in the States. Once he realized it was me, he tried to act cool and calm as if he wasn’t too surprised, but you could tell he was very happy.
Does anyone else in your family play hockey?
Our entire family plays hockey. After I started playing in Vancouver, my dad picked it up so that he could play with me when he visited. He spent a lot of time on the ice while he was in Korea so he could catch up to me. He convinced my mom to play so that she could get some exercise. My sister didn’t want to be the odd one out, so she returned her recently-purchased figure skates and acquired hockey gear. My dad is crazier about hockey than I am, and my sister can’t wait until her exams are over so she can go to the rink. My mom rarely plays any more, but she’ll bring her equipment to the rink.
What are your plans after graduating with a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry?
My plan after graduation is to join the U.S. Army for at least four years and apply to medical school after that. The program that I am planning on doing allows foreigners with certain language skills to join the Army as active duty soldiers. While four years isn’t a short period of time, I think it can be very beneficial for me. As for medical school, I think it is too early to know what I am most interested in, which would determine where I would like to go. I have way too much more to learn and I think I have time to keep exploring.