Olympic bronze medalist Toby Dawson's upbringing by ski instructor parents as a Korean adoptee in the U.S. helped him speed down the slopes, but he always faced an uphill struggle with his identity.
OLYMPIC BRONZE medalist Toby Dawson's upbringing by ski instructor parents as a Korean adoptee in the United States elped him speed down the slopes, but he always faced an uphill struggle with his identity.
Dawson, 28, returned to the land of his birth Tuesday for his first reunion with his biological father — a dream made possible by his Olympic success last year in Torino, Italy, where he was the only American to earn a medal in freestyle skiing.
Genetic tests confirmed that a bus driver from the port city of Busan is Dawson's biological father, and the two were to meet Wednesday in Seoul.
Dawson was lost at age 3 in a market in Busan, eventually resulting in his adoption in the United States and upbringing in the ski resort town of Vail, Colorado.
His Olympic medal earned him wide media attention in South Korea, leading many people to claim they were his real parents.
Dawson had planned to travel just after the Olympics to South Korea to compete in a freestyle event. But he called off the trip because of the excessive hype and false raised hopes about his biological parents — the latest in a series of disappointments after many others had come forward in recent years.
The South Korea Tourism Organization decided to name Dawson as an honorary ambassador and he asked the group for support in his quest to find his Korean family. He learned three days ago in a phone call that his biological father had been found.
"I'm still unsure of exactly how I feel about it,'' Dawson said. ''I've had some happiness, I've had a little anger, I've been excited — I just keep kind of going through these different emotions.'' He said at a news conference that he'd ask his biological father how he was lost as a child and why a more intensive search was not made for him.
''I'm not even sure it's really hit me that I really am going to be walking in the same room with this man,'' he said.
Dawson said he was a shy child and wanted to be like everyone else. ''It's kind of been an uphill road for me ever since the beginning. My parents didn't look anything like me and all my friends' parents looked just like them … I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb.''
Dawson learned more about his roots through attending a Korean heritage camp in Colorado, where he also broached the topic of being an adoptee with fellow Korean-Americans. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, children of South Korean origin were the largest group of foreign adoptees living in the United States at 56,825.
Dawson's quest for an Olympic medal and perseverance after narrowly missing the U.S. team in 2002 occupied all his time, meaning he could not previously concentrate on finding his biological parents. But he retired in September, freeing him to seek out his roots.
Dawson said he would start a foundation in his name to help other adoptees and orphans. ''It's my turn to give back to these kids,'' he said.