▲ Watched by his mother, Hines Ward supporting voting for Jeju in the Official New7Wonders of Nature online poll. Photo by Darryl Coote
Kim Young He is a quiet, petite, bespectacled woman who, although dwarfed by his 1.8-meter, 92-kilo frame, dutifully stands beside her son. On May 7 at the Jeju Tourism Office in Jeju City, the crowd of photographers, the ensemble of singing elementary school children and the random assortment of onlookers were there to see not her, but him, the Pittsburg Steelers’ all time leading receiver and Super Bowl XL Most Valued Player, Hines Ward. Though the media were swarming the pair solely due to his presence, many of his accomplishments would not have been possible without her encouragement and hard work.
“What better way to repay my mother back than to bring her to Jeju Island,” Ward said.
In Korea on holiday, Ward’s stop in Jeju was not without purpose. While here, he was appointed an honorary ambassador for Jeju Island and given the responsibility of promoting the island in its bid to be credited as one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Established in 2001 by Canadian filmmaker Bernard Weber, the New7Wonders foundation, as stated on its Web site, is dedicated “to the protection of the world’s human-built and natural heritage and to foster respect for our planet’s diversity.”
Presently, Jeju Island is one of 28 finalists competing for votes to claim the coveted seven spots. Polling will close and the winners will be announced sometime in 2011.
“I want to help Jeju become one of the Seven Wonders of the World. By coming here and being honorary ambassador, I am about to do all I can to make that happen,” Ward said.
The Pittsburg Steeler was given a white T-shirt with “Vote for Jeju” across the front and as he pulled it on, Kim reached up to her son’s neck to arrange his collar then made sure there were no creases in the back, evidence that this was truly a family affair.
“It’s a special feeling for my mom being so close to Parents’ Day tomorrow, so this is kind of my present to my mom, to bring her here to Jeju Island,” Ward said.
Being biracial (African-American and Korean) and raised primarily in the United States, Ward’s connection to his homeland is newly found. He still recalls the shame he experienced at his Korean heritage while growing up in a suburb in Atlanta. Though that sentiment is now long gone, as proved by a tattoo of his name written in Hangeul he sports on his upper right arm, Ward said one of the reasons for the trip was to be in Korea for Children’s Day “and see some of the kids that are a part of my foundation.” The Hines Ward Helping Hands Foundation was established to offer support to biracial children, like Ward, in Korea as well in America.
▲ Voting for the official New7Wonders of Nature is done from everywhere on the planet, via the internet and telephone oh the N7W Global Voting Platform
While in Korea he took the time to continue his philanthropic work and donated “a small gift,” he said, of 10 million won to the Cheonan foundation for the families of those who died when the Republic of Korea Navy corvette Cheonan was torpedoed in the West Sea on March 26.
Though the ceremony was short, the tourism office gave a grand welcome to the accomplished athlete. Banners flared from the front of the building, the children serenaded Hines and his mother, and they were presented with gifts of a dolhareubang (stone grand-father) for him and a traditional Korean tea set for her.
Though this was their first trip to Jeju, Ward said he had long looked forward to the visit, and recalled flipping through the pages of a book about Jeju that he and his mother were given on a previous visit to Korea.
“My mom and I, we look at it all the time at home, so I try to learn as much history as I can and we always talk about it being a beautiful place. She says it’s even better than Hawaii.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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