‘They’ll believe I’m a traitor’: North Korean defector obligates Winter Paralympics introduction

South Korea para ice hockey star Choi Kwang-hyouk expects awkward meeting with former compatriots as Pyongyang transmits first Winter Competition athletes

Choi Kwang-hyouk has been unable to escape his past, and every new encounter creates the same likeness from his previous life: North Korean refugee, vagrant, amputee.

For years that past weighed heavily on him and he struggled after he was smuggled out of the North to South Korea.

But with his entry at the Paralympics in Pyeongchang this week, the 30 -year-old hopes to be defined by his accomplishments and his boast, para ice hockey, in which 10 men slip in the different regions of the sparkler on sleighs in a modified word of the game.

” The committee is designations that will ever “re coming with me”, like defector or panhandler, although there is I’ve changed so much better since then ,” Choi said.” But I would like to be remembered as someone who has gone through agonizing durations, and is now full of passion to play this sport representing the Republic of Korea.

” When people talk about sledge ice hockey in South Korea, I want them to mention my call .”

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While Choi will not play against any of his former countrymen, he expects any rallies to be potentially awkward.” I will be happy to see them, but I don’t think they will be happy to see me ,” he said.” They’ll think I’m a turncoat .”

This year is the first time North Korea will participate in the Winter Paralympics, after its Summer Game entry in London in 2012. The North’s delegation will be by far its biggest to any Games to date, with 20 jocks set to participate, and forms part of a spectacular reconciliation between the two neighbours.

North Korea’s participation is all the more surprising passed several has pointed out that disabled peoples are regularly subject to discrimination and sometimes imprisoned.

When Choi was seven years old, North Korea’s founding captain Kim Il-sung died and, coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the aid it rendered, the two countries was beset by a hunger that killed at least a million people according to estimates by a US congressional committee.

His mothers divorced and he was raised by his maternal grandmother, who died two years later. By the time Choi was nine, he was on his own and began selling ice cream to set fares to survive.

To avoid train conductors looking to punish him for a lack of air tickets and his minor number of capitalism, Choi often razz between terminals on the ceiling of study cars or by hanging off the side. One daytime while he was climbing to the roof he declined and descended. One of the rotates operated over the top of his left foot.

An disabled Choi was brought to a infirmary, but medical doctors, furnished with alone the basic medical quantities, choose to amputate his leg below the knee- without anaesthesia- rather than attempt to restore his foot.

” My paw could have been fixed in another country, but in North Korea the medicine was so good ,” he said. He would eventually have four surgeries in the South. After his leg was amputated, “there werent” prosthetic appendage, exclusively crude wooden crutches that Choi would often smash in fits of rage.

North Korean authorities have long discriminated against disabled people, with a UN report saying sometimes there sent to work camp. While Choi was molested by police during his time selling ice cream, that abuse increased exponentially after his accident.

” North Korean propaganda shows the country as ever healthy and strong, but we were a remember that that is not true, so we were treated harshly by the authorities ,” he said.

His disability likewise cost him his pals: his fellow homeless youths abandoned him, and since he could no longer carry his container fitted with ice cream, he started begging.

” In North Korean society there is hierarchy in everything, even among tramps ,” he said.” Physically impaired parties are always at the bottom .”

Choi Kwang-hyouk poses in his Team Korea attire in Pyechongchang. Photo: Benjamin Haas for the Guardian

The dire situation in the North attains this year’s participation in the Paralympics all the more provocative, says Choi.

” North koreans is a defying home for the impaired. It wouldn’t be possible for someone with disabilities to participate in the Paralympic Game unless he or she has capability and property .”

Choi reached in South Korea in 2001 after “his fathers” paid a dealer to smuggle him out of the North. “His fathers” had already resolved within South Korea, but the relations between the two countries was strained and Choi spent times struggling in academy and life.

Like numerous newly arrived North Korean refugees he was slow to integrate and took to staying away for epoches in internet coffeehouse, series smoking and playing video game. He invested two years in that puncture, before starting classes at Korea National University of Welfare to study prosthetics manufacturing. A staff member recommended he try para ice hockey in 2015, and his obsession for online gaming changed into a strict qualify regimen.

” A slew of North Koreans fail to settle and integrate; they walk and become self-destructive ,” Choi said.” I want to be an example of how people can adjust well, that even a disabled person like me can succeed in South Korea .”

Additional reporting by Haeyoon Kim .

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