Jae Park has a family-sized job ahead of him at the Pan American Games.
He’ll coach his three children Skylar, Tae-Ku and Braven in taekwondo on opening weekend in Santiago, Chile.
“People tell me it’s unique and special, and it is special, but my focus is on the Games still and the performance, so I don’t think it sunk in yet,” Jae told The Canadian Press. “I’m trying to get my kids, my athletes prepared.”
Taekwondo, a martial art developed in Korea, translates to “the way of the foot and the fist.” It’s a way of life for the Parks, whose basement in Winnipeg morphed from a games and rec space into an elite training gym.
Tae-Ku, 22, and Braven, 20, make their Pan Am debuts Saturday. Tae-Ku competes in the men’s 68-kilogram weight class and Braven in 58 kg.
Skylar, 24, won Pan Am silver in 2019 in Lima, Peru in the women’s 57-kg class. She’s a multi-sport Games veteran, having reached the quarterfinals of Tokyo’s Summer Olympics in 2021. Skylar competes Sunday in Santiago.
“This time, to do it with my brothers and to see them experience the Games environment for the first time is a lot of fun, just seeing them so excited to be in the village and get the kit,” Skylar said.
“I’m still so excited too, but I think to see someone else experience it for the first time makes it that much more fun and more memorable.”
If Jae coaching all three Park children in Santiago wasn’t monumental enough for their clan, wife and mother Andrea was born in Chile and will be at the combat sports venue to support them.
New to the Pan Am Games are men’s and women’s team events, which will be contested Tuesday.
The Park siblings are each other’s sparring partners. Skylar was among the first athletes named to Canada’s Olympic team for Tokyo in 2020.
Those games were delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Skylar spent the months of stay-at-home advisories in the basement battling her brothers.
Tae-Ku travelled with her to Tokyo to be her training partner.
“We’re each other’s training partners. We don’t really have anyone else unless we’re travelling,” Tae-Ku said. “When I was younger, I definitely didn’t like Skylar very much because of the success she had and I didn’t have that. There was a lot of jealousy in there.
“As I grew and matured, I realized her success only helps me push further and Braven push further and now our team works a lot better and that shows in our results and the way we train together.”
Skylar helped her brothers prepare for their first multi-sport Games by sharing her experiences.
“She’s warned us to take it in, take your time, make sure you know what you’re doing, and when you step on the mat, just make sure you breathe and think about it, instead of rushing in there,” Braven said.
Jae always felt his sons’ successes in taekwondo would and should come later than his daughter’s.
“It’s kind of nice to see them step out of Skylar’s shadow, because it was always Skylar, Skylar, Skylar,” Jae said. “I always believed Skylar needed to find success earlier as a female athlete in her sport, and then she’s been able to carry it through.
“For the boys … from what I’ve seen and what I’ve discussed with other colleagues of mine and friends of mine, when they do so well, the boys, at a younger age, very seldom are they able to carry it through to the senior levels. It’s worked out well. They’re coming into their own. They’re finding their own success and finding their own confidence outside of Skylar’s shadow, which is nice.”
A father coaching all three of his hyper-competitive offspring at an elite international level isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, Skylar said, but taekwondo has forged tight bonds between them.
“We do everything together, so we all experience the same things, or kind of know what the other person is going through,” she explained. “Being able to be there for each other in those moments was really important.
“When one of us wins, all of us win. The most special thing about winning is being able to share it with each other.”
Jae agreed it’s not easy to separate family ties from sport ties, but says he’s their father first and coach second.
“Our strength isn’t the coach-athlete relationship. It’s the father-daughter-son relationship. That supersedes everything,” he said. “I hope the kids feel, regardless of what’s being said from a sport perspective, that they still know they’re supported.
“This is just a sport. It isn’t life.”