Muir returning to South Korea for Olympics and her own story
Kim Muir is not going home, but she is going back to where she is from.
On Feb. 20, power-skating instructor Muir will travel to Pyeongchang, South Korea, to watch three former students compete in the Ice Hockey Tournament at the Winter Olympic Games.
Then she’ll head to Seoul, South Korea. That’s the place Muir is from.
When she was six-months-old, Muir was found next to a garbage can and taken to an orphanage where she was given a number, not a name. Later she lived at Greenmeadow Orphanage, also in Seoul. There she got a name – Kim Hae Min. She never knew who her parents were.
When Muir was four, she was adopted by Al and Lois Muir of Trenton, who had received a photo of her from an agency. They met her in Chicago after her trip from Seoul and took her home to Trenton.
For Muir, Seoul became the place she was from. “This” – Trenton – “is home,” she said earlier in February when talking about her trip to South Korea. “This is my life, and this is my country.”
Muir, owner and president of the power skating school Can’t Skate, Can’t Play Inc., will watch three of her former students play in Olympic hockey games – defensemen James Wisniewski (Canton) and Bobby Sanguinetti on the U.S. Men’s team and defenseman Megan Keller (Farmington) on the U.S. Women’s team.
Of her childhood in Seoul, Muir has only one memory – “and I got in trouble,” she said.
Life at the orphanage was a survival-of-the-fittest situation. For instance, each day the children competed over who got to wear which shoes. Whoever laid first claim to a pair got to wear them that day.
Muir had taken a liking to a pair of red shoes and won the right to wear them for a few days – until one day when another orphan beat her to them.
“I knocked her down, took the shoes off of her and I put them on,” Muir remembered with a giggle. “I was like, ‘Those are my shoes!’ ”
All that changed when Muir arrived at her new home in Trenton. Not only did she have shoes but her own figure skates as well.
The Muirs were a skating family. Al, now 84, helped start the Trenton Hockey Association where his sons, Scott and Glen, would play. Al also coached and refereed many games.
“I was the skater,” said Al while watching his daughter at work at the Suburban Arena in Farmington Hills recently.
Lois Muir, 81, said they didn’t know what to expect for their little four-year-old when they first met her at the airport.
“I was hoping I was doing the right thing, taking her away from her country,” Lois said. “I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her, and (that she would) be happy here.”
It took about a month for Kim to adjust from the strict rules of an orphan’s home to the freedom of living in the Muir house.
“I was afraid and wouldn’t do anything like go to the bathroom or eat without getting permission first," she said.
“At night she would walk into our bedroom and stand there looking at us in bed,” said Lois. “After a few minutes, she would go back to her room. Our feelings were that she just wanted to make sure we hadn't left her.”
Among her memories was the first day at her new house.
“My brothers were 14 and 16 and were already 6-2 and 6-feet tall. And they had a big German shepherd dog,” Muir said. “I was afraid of men and afraid of dogs.”
She soon adjusted.
At her first competition at age 7, she skated to the song “Daddy's Little Girl,” Lois said. "He was so proud of her."
Kim became a top student and competed nationally with the U.S. Figure Skating Association for eight years. She even mastered doing back-flips on skates.
Muir earned bachelor of science degrees in biology and chemistry and a master’s degree in educational leadership.
She has taught power skating for 25 years and started Can’t Skate, Can’t Play 23 years ago. More than 100 of her former students have played in the NHL and AHL.
She also awards $500 scholarships to five of her students every summer, something she’s been doing for 15 years. She created the program to stress the importance of education to her students and to give back to the community for the fortunate turns in her life.
Muir will be taking her two children – 9-year-old Vincenzo and 8-year-old Alexis – to South Korea with her.
“Ever since Korea was announced as the Olympics site for 2018, I begin thinking and investigating going back to the orphanage where I was when I was 4,” she said. “After the adoption agency confirmed it was possible, I wanted to show my children where I came from and how lucky I was and they are to be Americans.”
Now her amazing story comes full circle as she prepares to return to South Korea.
“Wonderful. That's it,” an emotional Al said of her story. “We’re very proud of her.”
Muir said that, when she first began planning her trip, she just thought it would be “really cool” to return to Seoul. But as her departure date of Feb. 20 draws closer, its significance is sinking in.
“This could really be emotional,” she said.