Columbia medical student Caroline Park recently enjoyed the journey of a lifetime to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics in South Korea. It all began in 2013 with an unexpected email and culminated in competing on the historic unified Korean women’s ice hockey team in February. Fresh from the adrenaline rush of the Olympics, Park shares her favorite moments, how she played through an injury, and her future plans.
What were some of the highlights of your time at the Olympics?
There were so many amazing moments. Some highlights included walking in the opening ceremony, playing our first game on Olympic ice as a unified team, and being on the ice when we made history by scoring the first goal ever for Korea at the Olympics (in a game against Japan, no less). The underlying feelings during all of these moments were pure excitement, happiness, and pride. It was an indescribable feeling to hear the roar of the crowd as we entered the stadium to walk in the opening ceremony as the host country. Being able to play on home ice in front of family, friends, and Korean fans was such an honor. The fans were incredible, including the North Korean cheerleaders! They were so supportive and cheered for us until the last buzzer in every game, regardless of the score. The roar of the crowd when we scored the first goal was so loud, I couldn’t hear my teammates on the ice. Hearing the fans’ chants and cheers filled me up with so much joy and pride every game.
How much playing time did you have on the ice at the Olympics?
I suffered an injury during training camp right before the Olympics, so I wasn’t sure how much or if I would even be able to play. I didn’t play much the first two games, but thanks to my team doctor and trainers, we figured out a way for me to manage the pain and I was able to enter the lineup and play for a good amount of the last three games.
What was something unexpected that you learned from your experiences at the Olympics?
I was surprised by how quickly our team bonded with the North Korean players. They were so friendly and warm. They were no different than any of us, and we became close. I think the unified team reminded everyone of how sports can transcend cultures and barriers. It was a privilege to be a part of something bigger than just a hockey game. Time will tell if it will have any lasting impact, but being a part of this team afforded me the opportunity to get to know remarkable women who very few people would ever get to meet.
Will you continue to play hockey with the Korean team after the Olympics and do you intend to combine your interest in hockey with a medical career in the future?
It will be difficult to continue playing with the Korean team since I plan to finish medical school and go on to residency. I’m hoping that maybe I can eventually be involved with the team and the Olympics in a medical capacity a few years down the road. I would love to combine my interest in hockey and sports with my medical career and that’s why I have always had a strong interest in orthopedics. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of injuries playing sports, so it would be great to use my experiences to relate to and help others.
What are your next steps to complete medical school?
I plan to return to Columbia after I take time off to rest and recover from the Olympics. The last time I was on campus for medical school was in September 2017. I completed some rotations before taking my leave of absence, but I still have a large majority of the Major Clinical Year left to complete. I’m looking forward to seeing my classmates again and resuming my rotations!