Before taking the ice at his first-ever short track world cup A final on November 30, Andrew Heo touched a 3-inch scar on his left forearm. It was a wound he’d received during practice earlier in the season when he hit a block going into a corner and skidded out. He doesn’t remember cutting his arm, but he recalls looking down to see blood.
“I got really defeated. I’d gotten really good, really fast and I thought it was just all ruined,” he said.
The 18-year-old’s journey to the world cup circuit started when he was seven years old. His brother, Aaron, skated with the Potomac Club and they traveled from their suburban Pennsylvania town to Maryland every weekend to work with the team.
Andrew had no interest in speed skating. The coach was loud and intimidating, so instead he brought his rollerblades to use while his brother trained. It wasn’t long before people were telling him to get speed skates because he was really fast. He decided to give it a try. He jumped right in and quickly learned the techniques to make him one of the best skaters on the team.
It was a sacrifice for the family to have the boys training in Maryland. Andrew’s father owned an auto collision center, so traveling each weekend became his mom’s job. Every Friday, she’d pick Andrew and Aaron up from school, drive almost four hours to the club, stay the weekend in a hotel, then drive them home Sunday night so they could be in school on Monday.
Andrew’s Korean-born parents wanted to give their sons things they never got to experience. They willingly sacrificed their time and money to support the boys and kept up the schedule for years, but missing out on weekends took a toll on Andrew’s confidence.
“I had no social life in middle school,” he said. “It was really hard on me. People were actually mean to me because I was an outsider. I was trying so hard to be someone I wasn’t, just to fit in. As I’ve gotten older, I realize you just have to be yourself.”
When he was 15, Andrew moved to Utah with his mom and Aaron to train with the FAST team at the Utah Olympic Oval. His amount of training increased and his skill improved consistently but he worried about the strain it was taking on his family.
“My parents had dedicated their lives to us to support us and give us what we needed. It really is awesome,” he said. “Because it was a huge financial commitment to have a home in Utah and back home, I made a promise to them that if I didn’t get better, I’d go back to Pennsylvania.”
Andrew is still here. This season he was named to the National Short Track Team and he continues to grow his skating talent working with former Potomac club teammates Jonathan So and Thomas Hong. Andrew qualified for an individual A Final and B Final during the first four world cup events and hopes to keep an upward trajectory.
Now, when Andrew sees his scar, it’s motivation. It helps him remember the sacrifices that got him where he is today. It’s a reminder of all the blood, sweat and tears it took to get him to this point in his journey.
“When I returned back to the ice from my accident, I was mentally and physically stronger than ever,” he said. “My dad told me to look at my scar because it shows the hard work I’ve done to get here. Before a race I’ll look at my scar and it’s a reminder to be strong.”