U.S. Olympic skier Toby Dawson embraced his tearful father Wednesday as they reunited for the first time since the athlete was lost in a South Korean market more than two decades ago, leading to his eventual adoption in the United States.
SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Olympic skier Toby Dawson embraced his tearful father Wednesday as they reunited for the first time since the athlete was lost in a South Korean market more than two decades ago, leading to his eventual adoption in the United States.
“Don’t worry,” Dawson, 28, told Kim Jae-su as the two met in front of dozens of journalists at a Seoul hotel, the culmination of a yearslong journey made possible after a bronze freestyle skiing medal win at the Torino Olympics last year earned Dawson wide attention in the country of his birth.
Following the Olympics, dozens of would-be parents came forward to claim Dawson was their child, including Kim. But after years of dashed hopes, Dawson put off an earlier planned trip to Korea and waited for confirmation from genetic tests before traveling here this week.
Dawson was 3 years old when he was lost in a market by his mother in the southern port city of Busan, said Kim. A truck driver at the time, Kim said it was too late when he got home to start searching for his missing child, whose original Korean name was Bong-seok. So in the following days, he said he scoured local orphanages.
“I went to many orphanage houses only to hear that they didn’t have anyone like him. They wouldn’t let me come inside and look for him,” the 53-year-old Kim said, adding that he would search orphanages whenever he had time but eventually gave up.
“I’m not here to beat him up for what happened,” Dawson said, adding he had a fortunate life growing up with his adoptive parents, who were ski instructors in Vail, Colorado.
At the start of a news conference, Dawson gave his biological father a Norwegian skiing sweater that he said signified his upbringing in the sport, which Kim immediately put on.
Still, Dawson said he plans to use a new foundation he is starting in his name to help work to avoid such cases.
“Being caught in limbo between two different countries and not looking like your family is going to be tough,” he said. “We need to try to keep our children and work a little bit harder to keep these circumstances from happening.”
Dawson noted how he shared his healthy sideburns with his father, who during the news conference reached over several times to touch Dawson’s face while they also held hands.
“I am glad to meet my son and see that he has grown up so wonderfully,” Kim said. “I am thankful that he has come to look for me even after such a long time.”
When they first hugged, Dawson said he told Kim a Korean phrase he had learned for the meeting, “I’ve been waiting a long time, father,” and also urged him to be strong because the day was a happy event.
“My life until now has been confused,” Dawson said. “I looked at my parents and I didn’t look like them. Then I also felt if I went to Korea I didn’t belong there.
“I felt like I was still lost, stuck between two different worlds,” he said.
Kim declined to talk publicly about Dawson’s biological mother, but local media reports have said the loss of their child spurred conflict between the couple that eventually led to divorce. Dawson said he hoped to eventually stage a reunion with both his parents.
Also at the reunion was Dawson’s biological younger brother, 24-year-old Kim Hyun-cheol, who was wearing an earring in his left ear similar to those Dawson has in both ears. All three men wrapped their arms around each other before heading to a family lunch.
Dawson said he wanted to become a professional golfer within five years, having retired in September from professional skiing.
— The Associated Press