Heart and Seoul

February 27, 2006

Olympic medalscan lead to riches, fame or a new girlfriend. They can lead to a job, a life oran appearance on the Today show. But Toby Dawson hopes his leads to somethingelse--his birth parents.

Left on the frontstoop of a police station as a toddler and then placed in an orphanage inSeoul, Toby was adopted at age three by two Vail ski instructors, Deb and MikeDawson. They had him skiing by four. He was beating them down the mountain bynine.

In those days henever thought about being the only Asian kid in powder-white Vail. Neverwondered who his blood parents might be. Never wanted to know, even though hisbrother, K.C.--also adopted--flew to Seoul 10 years ago and met his. Toby hatedhearing about that meeting. The man in Korea wanted K.C. to call him father.Nuh-uh. No way.

Whether it wasfear of the unknown or love of his adopted parents, Dawson showed no curiosityabout the subject. Didn't ever go by his Korean middle name--Soo Chul.Complained when his parents dragged him to Korean Heritage Camp. Didn't want tobe anything other than "a blond-haired, blue-eyed regular Americankid," he says. "All I cared about was skiing."

Problem was, Toby(Awesome) Dawson got too good. Started winning World Cup events in thefreestyle moguls. Pretty soon the planet started noticing him. And people sureas hell noticed he wasn't blond-haired and blue-eyed.

I'm your father,Koreans e-mailed. I'm your mother. I'm your cousin.

And Dawson'sresponse was always the same: Get bent. "I think he was blocking itout," says Deb. "Which was too bad. Because his dream was the Olympics,but mine was that the Olympics would be how he'd find his parents."

Then somethinghappened. Asked to return to the Korean Heritage Camp he so hated as a kid, hewent and discovered something within himself. Suddenly he wanted to know who hewas. "There was such a buzz with the kids there," he recalls. "Alot of them had already found their birth parents. Some of the stories wereamazing."

One of thestories he heard was my daughter's.

We adopted Rae atfour months, and she was the anti-Toby. She thought constantly about her birthmother, who had to be a princess. Or a movie star.

So when she was11, we flew to Seoul, even though we were told that her birth mother would notmeet with us. Unwed, she'd sneaked away at 16 to have the baby, and only hersister knew. She was married now, with three kids, and she dared not bediscovered. And yet--the interpreter told us--not a day went by that she didn'tthink of Rae.

Finally, sheagreed to 30 stolen minutes, in a coffee shop two hours from her home. Wewaited three hours. Rae looked heartsick. Finally, a cellphone rang. She'd meetus in the alley. And suddenly, there she was, tiny and white-faced. She climbedinto our van. She looked at everybody but Rae. She said she had 10 minutes.

"Rae," Isaid, "if you have any questions for your birth mother, ask them now."Rae took out a folded piece of paper we didn't know she had.

Question 1. Whydid you give me up? "Great shame," the woman told the interpreter,never looking at Rae. Two: Where's my father? "Don't know." Finally, ashocker. Three: When you had me, did you get to hold me?

The birth motherhung her head. No.

And that's whenthe interpreter said, "Well, you can now."

That broke thewoman. She wheeled on Rae and swallowed her in her arms and kisses and sobs.Maybe the only people crying harder in that van were my wife and I. Shewouldn't let Rae go. Finally, she had to. We haven't seen her since. Rae wasbeaming. "It feels like it fixed a little hole in my heart," shesaid.

So when TobyDawson shredded the Turin freestyle course last week, beating his moreballyhooed teammate, Jeremy Bloom (box, page 68), and winning a stunningbronze, his picture ran in nearly every South Korean newspaper and on every TVstation. Somewhere, maybe his birth mother has read his story and seen him forthe first time in more than 25 years, shouting, "Oh, my God! That's myson!"

Only now, atlast, Dawson is open to a meeting. "I think it'd be cool," he says."I'd like to be friends."

He's got lots ofpossibilities. Since winning the medal, Dawson seems to have more long-lostparents than a PowerBall winner. But so far, nobody's agreed to a bloodtest.

I hope somebodydoes. I hope Dawson makes it over this one last mogul. Because an Olympic medalcan fix a lot of things, but not little holes in the heart.

When Toby Dawson shredded the Turin freestyle courselast week, maybe his birth mother saw him for the first time in more than 25years.

RIFFS of REILLY

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PHOTOCARL YARBROUGH

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)