Mission life: THE KUKMIN DAILY

Social Activist Jang Mi-ran: “That young people will overcome the thorns and bloom like roses”

2016-01-15 15:05

“Foundation board president? I’m just doing it because everyone else is too busy. Ha, ha.”

The smile of this “weightlifting queen” who, following three international defeats, won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is still the same as ever. I met Jang Mi-ran (33, photo), turned from Olympic hero into social activist, on January 7 at a caf? in Samseong-dong, Seoul.

Since the press conference at the time of her retirement, her days have been no less busy than when she was on an active training schedule. She has received a Ph.D. in sports sociology, served on committees of Korean and international weightlifting federations, lectured, participated in confessional meetings, and done various other activities. Amidst her tight schedule, most of her time is taken by her foundation work. In 2012, after her recovery from a traffic accident and at the height of her preparations for the London Olympics, she decided to follow her father’s suggestion: Establish a foundation.

The central work of the foundation is to give dreams and hope to young people through sports. Its core activities include “sports mentoring,” in which current and former national sports figures become mentors and guides for budding athletes; supporting medical treatment for the healthy growth of aspiring athletes and needy persons; and offering “dream scholarships” to assist talented athletes in difficult life situations. In the name of “Jangmiran Sports Day, she also goes to young athletes’ training places, and visits young persons in the low-income sector, to encourage them directly.

Jang said, “I am called board president, but in reality I’m a representative of volunteers…This work would be impossible without the mentors, my fellow athletes from our days together at Taeneung National Training Center,” she explained, returning the honor to her companions. Archery’s Yun Mi-jin and Park Seong-hyeon, track and field’s Joshua Kim Geon-u, fencing’s Nam Hyeon-hui and Choi Byeong-cheol, wrestling’s Jeong Ji-hyeon, judo’s Kim Jae-beom, volleyball’s Han Song-I, and badminton’s Lee Hyo-jeong are some of the mentors who work with her.

In the days when Jang Mi-ran was a national player, she was nicknamed “Taeneung National Village Evangelist.” Even in the midst of strenuous training, she never missed a village worship service, and she also served as general secretary of the Shalom Club, a group of Christian players in the Village. She had many opportunities to comfort athletes who had fallen into a slump.

“Rather than comforting, I just shared my experience: How thankful I am that there is a Being I can cling to when I’m troubled in body and mind; and how important it is, even though I am not scoring well now, to understand the mind of God, who is preparing something better for me, and to recover my hope.” (She laughed.)

Her faith and her positive thinking, strengthened during her days at the athletes’ village, which resembled a military training camp, are conveyed fully to the young athletes of the future whom she meets through her foundation.

“With poor results during competition, one younger athlete, just 19 years old, was thinking, ‘I’m a loser in life.’ I said, ‘You are absolutely not a loser. On the contrary, you can prepare in advance for your future after sports. You can become a rehabilitation trainer or leader.’ Now that athlete is studying physical therapy and living out a great dream.”

Her publicizing of the need for concern and for legislation on social welfare for retired athletes is also aimed at giving hope to needy and lonely athletes. “Athletes’ level of contribution to the nation is not small, but their situation after retirement is very difficult,” Jang Mi-ran said. “Working with the foundation, my eyes have been opened to the situation of athletes’ welfare, and to their social and educational problems after retirement.”

Her favorite hymn is “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,” and she has used the word “rose” in connection with her activities, so I asked her what rose she hopes will bloom in the New Year. ('Rose' in Korean, 'jangmi,' and the first two syllables of her name 'Jang Mi-ran' are homophones.)

“The foundation’s slogan is ‘The rose pushes through the thorns to bloom.’ It means, ‘Overcome the hardships and bloom as your uniquely beautiful self.’ Rather than looking forward to magnificent moments, I want to encourage people in our society not to give up even when things are difficult, and to help them lift up the barbell of hope.”

Reporter Choi Ki-young (ky710@kmib.co.kr), with Marion Kim (marionkkim@icloud.com)
Photo by senior reporter Kang Min Seok

Click here for the original article in Korean

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