Julia And Chai’s Olympic Story

The other day, “06880” reported that Julia Marino made the US Olympic snowboard team. In a few days, she heads to PyeongChang, South Korea.

Yet there’s more to the story than just excitement that a Westporter has a chance for international stardom.

A decade and a half ago, Julia and Chaihyun Kim met on the first day of Long Lots Elementary School kindergarten. Chai had just moved to the US, with her mother and 2 sisters. She did not speak a word of English.

But she and Julia became best friends. For the next 3 years, they were inseparable. Chai’s mother worked every Saturday at a dry cleaner, so Julia’s mother Elaine picked Chai up. They played in soccer and basketball leagues, and in their spare time did whatever little kids do.

Chai and Julia, age 6.

Chai moved to Wilton from age 9 to 11, but came back to attend Bedford Middle School and Staples High. She graduated in 2015, and is now a pre-med junior at Yale University.

Julia attended St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, and traveled far and wide on the snowboard tour. But the girls kept in touch.

In December 2016, Elaine ran into Chai. The proud mother mentioned that Julia might qualify for the Olympics.

Julia Marino heads to the Olympics

Chai said that her father still lives in Seoul. She said her family would be happy to help with Olympic planning.

They sure did. In May — through the Korean-resident lottery — they got Elaine’s family tickets to the opening ceremony and Julia’s events, a savings of at least $2,000.

Over the summer, Chai’s family traveled to PyeongChang to film several lodging options. The Marinos had worried it would be difficult to house their large group of relatives and friends in one location. The videos confirmed it.

So Chai’s father spoke with a friend who owns 2 vacation apartments in Gangneung. They’d never rented them to anyone — let alone to foreigners — but thanks to Mr. Kim, the Marinos are leasing both modern 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartments.

Chai Kim

They know what they look like too, because Chai filmed last summer, when she was in South Korea.

Mr. Kim drafted a rental agreement, and translated it into English. He also arranged all their transportation in South Korea.

The Marinos reimbursed him — and bought tickets for Chai and him to attend Julia’s events. “It’s the least we could do!” Elaine says.

So next month Elaine, 5 aunts, 3 uncles, 5 cousins and Julia’s sister Cece head to to the Olympics.

This may not qualify as one of NBC’s famous “Up Close and Personal” Olympic stories.

But for the Marino family, South Korea is a journey they could never make alone.

BONUS NEWSLast weekend at the X Games, Julia won a silver medal in slopestyle.

9 responses to “Julia And Chai’s Olympic Story

  1. Great story. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Mrs. Klunk’s kindergarten class was the best!!
    Great story – love the connection and kindness shown, then and now.

  3. How wonderful!

  4. This Story Wins The GOLD!
    Thanks & Good Luck to all!

  5. Thank you again, Dan. We are so excited to be going to the Olympics!

    My husband John and I depart for South Korea on February 7. We had to split “Team Marino” into two groups: one group of six relatives will stay with us from February 8 – February 17, and watch Julia compete in Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle on February 11 and 12. As this first group returns to the US on February 17, a second group of eight relatives (including our younger daughter, Cece) arrives and will watch Women’s Snowboard Big Air on February 19 and 23. John and I will fly back to the US with this second group on February 24. (We leave Seoul at 7:30 pm on February 24, and arrive at JFK Airport at 7:30 pm on February 24, thanks to the 14-hour flight and the 14-hour time difference.)

    Chai will be at Incheon Airport on February 3 to greet Julia as she arrives. From what I understand, NBC will be there with Chai to capture the two Long Lots buddies as they reunite in South Korea. Look for the vignette on NBC!

    — Elaine

  6. Oh, Elaine, this is such a beautiful story. Dan, thank for sharing the beautiful details!! You and Julia are very special people. I am so glad to witness this exciting adventure from a distance.
    Best, Tracy from CLASP

  7. Elina Lublinsky

    This story is so good…
    And the world is so small…
    Best or luck to Julia!

  8. Best story!!! Thanks for sharing. Jeanne

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. Kathie Bennewitz

    Chai is a dear friend of my daughter too and this wonderful story speaks volumes about her generous spirit and sincere dedicated friendships as well as the “Go Julia!” Spirit that we all share!

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