Son of South Korean immigrants, Bucks County’s Andrew Heo brings his family’s Olympic dream to Beijing
Andrew Heo, his surprise Olympic berth clinched, skated across the finish line in first place in December and looked towards the stands.
The 20-year-old from Bucks County started short track speed skating at the age of seven, inspired to follow his older brother. His parents, South Korean immigrants, drove them every weekend from Warrington to train in Maryland before the brothers outgrew the facility and moved to the Olympic training ground in Utah.
Heo’s father stayed home to operate his auto shop in North Philadelphia while Heo’s mother lived with their sons in a Salt Lake City apartment while they trained and graduated from high school. The family was separated by more than 2,000 miles so the boys could pursue their dreams.
And now Heo – skating around the rink after winning the 1,000 meters at the US Olympic trials – wanted to meet his family in the stands to remind them that this moment was theirs too.
“Everything we’ve been through as a family and everything my parents had to do to nurture our dream, it really makes me want to fulfill this dream of ours,” Heo said days before leaving for the Olympics. from Beijing. “It really helped me through some of the toughest times. This is what I want to do for our family. I owe it to my parents. I want to give them back everything they have done for me. As a son, I feel like it’s a way of thanking them.
Heo entered the last lap of his qualifying race in a stalemate with Brandon Kim, America’s favorite and top-ranked skater. When Heo moved in front of Kim, their skates touched and sent Kim crashing into the boards. Heo skated the last lap practically on his own. He was an Olympian.
He discovered the sport after his cousins, who lived in Maryland, started skating with the Potomac Speedskating Club near Washington, DC in 2008 under the guidance of a former gold medalist from South Korea. Heo was initially intimidated by the strict coach and opted for rollerblading while his brother was training with his cousins.
Eventually, Heo took a chance. His mother, Jennifer, used to drive her sons to Maryland every Friday after they got hooked on the sport. His father, Peter, closed the car shop on Saturday evening and traveled by bus or train to meet his family so he could take the car home on Sunday.
“Every time I ask my parents, ‘Why did you do that? You didn’t know I was going to the Olympics. It was just a dream and a hope,'” Heo said. every time I ask them they say it’s because I loved it and I’m so grateful that my parents wanted to give me this opportunity just because I loved it.”
Aaron Heo moved to Salt Lake City in 2015 before his junior year of high school so he could train at the Olympic Oval. The Heos arranged for Aaron, who reached the Youth Olympics in 2016, to live with another skater’s family and enrolled him in an online school.
He soon felt lonely, telling his parents how difficult it was to be away from home during practice and school.
So Andrew, who was ready to start high school, asked if he could join his older brother in Utah. His parents didn’t want to burden the other family with housing two teenagers, so Heo’s mother moved in with Andrew in the summer of 2016 to join Aaron.
Before leaving, Heo’s parents made a deal that he had to show improvement in that first summer and prove that the investment was worth it before committing to keeping him there. Heo’s times shot up almost immediately as he raced towards his Olympic dream.
“It was definitely not an easy decision to make, but something I had to do to give my two boys the opportunity they needed to continue their journey. It wasn’t easy to swallow, but I had to do it for them,” said Peter Heo. “They were at that elite level where they needed extra training. I saw this and I knew it. I had to support them.
Peter Heo’s father, Joo Suk, first found work in Philadelphia repairing steel bumpers after immigrating here nearly 50 years ago with his wife and two sons. He eventually opened his own auto shop, which has now become two Hunting Park businesses owned by his son, near Germantown and Hunting Park Avenues.
While the rest of his family lived in Utah, Peter Heo buried himself in his job at the shop – J&S Collison & Auto Repair Center – for six days a week, staying some nights until nearly 9 a.m. for he refused to leave until the repairs were completed. finished.
He missed his family so much that he cried on the flight to Philadelphia after moving them into their Utah apartment, knowing he would be alone while his sons pursued their dream. But Peter Heo just kept working, knowing his sacrifice was worth it.
The shop his father used for a better life in a new country – “The American Dream”, said Peter Heo – was now used to fund his son’s Olympic pursuit.
“They have a grandson who is an Olympian now. What more can you ask for?” said Peter Heo. “We are very lucky that the man upstairs has given us the opportunity to come to America and live our lives here.”
Andrew Heo will compete in his first Olympic event on Saturday as he competes in the 1,000 meter heats, the same event that sent him to Beijing. His family will not be in the stands as spectators have been barred from matches. But they will watch at home as their son pursues a family’s dream.
“I get emotional when I think about those times and everything leading up to this moment,” Andrew Heo said. “Just flashbacks of everything they had to go through. I don’t think I realized that as a kid. Most kids don’t realize that. I took it for granted.
“But once I started seeing that Olympic dream and the hope of making it to the Olympics, I had to really think about how to keep the fire inside me and something to push me and motivate me. It was my parents. It always comes back to how they got me to this point and what they had to do and all the hard work and sacrifices they had to make. When I watch That makes me realize how lucky I am.