For Caroline Park, the Winter Olympics are part athletic competition, part real-world job training experience.
As a medical student at Columbia University, the 28-year-old Park has spent plenty of time around needles while she worked as a clinical research assistant at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and completed clinical rotations for school.
Now, she’s on the receiving end of medical attention during her first Olympic experience in Pyeongchang. Before games and between periods, the Korean women’s ice hockey player received shots to numb the pain of a high-ankle sprain sustained during a pre-Olympics training camp.
“It’s funny because my trainer, every time I might get a little down or disappointed because of my injury, he’s always just like, ‘Well, this will be a great experience that you can relate with your patients later,’ ” said Park, an aspiring orthopedic surgeon.
The sprain was just another challenge to overcome for Park, a Canadian-born, South Korean-nationalized citizen who was recruited via email in 2015 for what would become the unified Korean team. Throughout her life, Park has worked to defy limitations as a Korean-Canadian woman in two Caucasian male-dominated fields: hockey and orthopedic surgery.
“I just kind of don’t think twice about it,” said Park, a forward who plays in a men’s league at Chelsea Piers. “I don’t let it deter me from pursuing the things that I want to do.”
“I love hockey. I love playing the game. It’s something that gives me that extra energy and joy. And pursuing that also helps me fuel that desire in medicine.”
Growing up as a child of Korean immigrants, Park was taught by her father, Sandy, that she and older brother Michael were “Korean-Canadian,” not “Canadian-Korean.” Still, Sandy grew to love hockey and allowed his children to take part in one of Canada’s greatest passions, even if they weren’t the most talented ones on the ice.
“She would win an award for perfect attendance, for never missing any practice or any games,” said Sandy Park. “Once she determines what she wants to do, she doesn’t want to take a shortcut.”
Sandy Park got to share the Olympic experience with his daughter as a volunteer host with the Canadian men’s hockey team. Even though Caroline Park had never visited South Korea before the naturalization process 2015, she said she felt “very much at home” in her father’s native country.
Although her team was relegated to Tuesday’s seventh-place game against Sweden, Park didn’t let her ankle stand in the way of her Olympic adventure.
“I think when it comes down to it, when you’re faced with all of these challenges and everything seems super difficult, you’re just like, ‘Hey, I love doing this,’ ” Park said. “So, it’s all worth it.”