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 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.
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.
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 NEWS: Last weekend at the X Games, Julia won a silver medal in slopestyle.