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Juggling hockey, medical school

Mar 13,2017
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Park Eun-jung, forward for the Korean women’s ice hockey team. [SHIN IN-SEOP]
Park Eun-jung, also known as Caroline Park, attends one of the top medical schools in the world. But for years, she has demonstrated a passion for ice hockey. In 2015, she obtained Korean citizenship to be a part the women’s ice hockey team that will represent Korea at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Park, born in Brampton, Ontario, started playing ice hockey at age 8 after watching her brother play. Although her mom wanted her to be a ballerina or a figure skater, Park chose ice hockey. As she was raised by Korean parents, she can understand Korean but is more comfortable communicating in English. Since she was young, Park has appeared on the Canadian TV shows “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and “Naturally Sadie.”

As a player for the Mississauga Junior Chiefs, Canada’s junior league team, she was recruited to play for Princeton University on scholarship. In her four-year career with the Tigers, she recorded three goals with 10 assists.

After graduating from Princeton University in 2011, Park worked in clinical research in New York preparing her applications to medical schools. At the same time, she continued to play ice hockey as part of a local mixed hockey club.

In 2013, Park received an email from the Korean Ice Hockey Association (KIHA), inviting her to play for the Korean women’s ice hockey team.

“My dad always pointed out how I’m Korean before I’m Canadian, so it was an easy decision,” Park said. “I quit my job at the clinical research and got on a plane to Korea.”

Wearing a Princeton University hoodie and carrying a hockey stick in one hand, Park arrived in Korea for the first time in July 2013.

“Park came to Korean National Training Center the day after she arrived in Korea,” Kim Jung-min, head of the publicity department for the KIHA, said. “And she played in the practice game right away.”

Under a special naturalization law, Park earned Korean citizenship in 2015. That same year, she also was accepted to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Although she was accepted to a top school, Park applied for a leave of absence to focus on competing at the Olympics.

“I want to be a doctor but at the same time, I also want to play at the Olympics,” Park said. With her life motto of “no regret,” Park did not quit her medical studies as she studies alone after finishing her training. “I’m trying my best to balance both.”

In 2014, Park had shoulder surgery to continue her hockey career. “My mom didn’t want me to get surgery because it doesn’t affect me in my regular life, but to continue as a hockey player, I needed surgery,” Park said.

Upon completion of her hockey career, Park hopes to continue her medical studies to be a sports medicine specialist. Team members have asked her to serve as team doctor when she’s done.

The Korean women’s hockey team showed great potential and hope for the Olympics in its performance at the Asian Winter Games last month. During its game against China, Park scored a goal to tie the game at 2-2, which allowed the team to overcome a one-point deficit and win 3-2 in a shootout. For the first time in 18 years of the Korean women’s hockey history, they beat China and set the best Asian Games record of a fourth-place finish with three wins and two losses.

The team also demonstrated its potential during the game against Japan. Although they lost 3-0, it was a great improvement compared to 2007 when they lost 29-0. The two teams will meet again as they are assigned in group B of the PyeongChang Olympics qualification round.

“I want to prove to my parents that I didn’t waste my time in Korea at the PyeongChang Olympics,” Park said. “Also, I want to show them that the Korean women’s ice hockey team is not weak.”

BY PARK RIN [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]