Monday, June 23, 2008

Lord of the Olympic Rings

©2008 David B. Knechel

When my best friend, Stewart Bacheler and his wife, Janice, tried to have children many years ago, something didn't work. They really wanted to start a family and ultimately, they ended up adopting two toddlers from Korea. First came Jessie and then they thought that maybe she should have a brother. Poof! Along came Josh. I remember when I first met Jessie. She was a 1-1/2 year old bundle of joy. Every year, I traveled back to New Jersey for our legendary - in our minds, anyway - "Big Chill" party at the Bacheler's beach house on Pelham Avenue in Beach Haven. I had the same downstairs bedroom each time I visited there for the week. It was called Heidi's Room for Stewart's niece. Stewart's mother was quite the Pennsylvania Dutch interior decorator, so Heidi's name was ornately painted on the sliding bedroom door.

I'd sometimes drive up alone or with an old friend, Steve Kangas, but most of the time I flew. All of our old friends would meet at that house on Friday and party well into the night. We were still pretty young then. Stewart and I were always the first ones up in the morning and we'd travel down the street to Marvel's Market for fresh doughnuts. We watched them fry, that's how fresh they were. In the meantime, coffee would be brewing and that would sometimes rouse the others. Stewart and I sat out on the shaded front porch to catch up on what we had been doing. We didn't get to see each other like when I still lived up there. Plus, we had first dibs on the still warm doughnuts and fresh coffee.

This one particular morning was a little different. About 7 AM, I was awakened by a banging on my bedroom door and very young cries of "Unca Day! Unca Day!" which was Jessie's special way of telling me, "Uncle Dave, it's time to get up!" I heard Stewart stumble out to try to quiet her, but I was already awake and the thought of finally getting to see her was a lot more important than sleeping another minute. For months, he had told me how excited she was to meet Uncle Dave. Believe me, I was too. I put some pants and a shirt on and slid the door open. When I looked down, this sweet little girl was staring up at me with bright brown eyes. She couldn't have been two feet tall and I melted on the spot. Quickly, I scooped her up in my arms and we hugged each other tightly. It was something I will never forget.

That was in July of 1981 and how quickly she and her brother grew up. Jessie went to Penn State, Josh went to live in Hawaii, where he goes to the state university there, Stewart and Janice eventually divorced and he moved to Florida with his wife, An, a few years ago. Good thing I haven't changed much since those early days. I was bald then and I still am. Unfortunately, that beach house was sold and razed when his folks got a bit too old to maintain it. Oh, the stories we could all tell of that place.

Jessie is quite successful now. She ended up staying in the land of the Nittany Lions after graduating and is now the marketing and public relations manager at WHVL, a TV station in State College. She and her boyfriend, Kevin Tan, who grew up in Fremont, California, own a house they share with two dogs, but alas, her boyfriend spends a lot of time away from home. That's because he is a gymnast. Oh, not your garden variety 'bouncing around on a mat' kind of guy. No, not exactly. From what I understand, he is ranked number one in the country on still rings and a top contender on parallel bars. That is why, on June 22, he was named to the U.S. Olympic team after competing Friday and Saturday on rings, parallel bars, high bars and pommel horse. Kai Wen - or Kevin - as we will get to know him by his more English sounding name, will travel to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics. His father, Peter Tan, was born in Taiwan after his parents fled the mainland in 1949. There, he met Kevin's mother.

KEVIN TAN - Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

Kevin, who has a degree in financing, was a six-time all-American at Penn State, and is the assistant gymnastics coach there. He earned a scholarship in gymnastics and won back-to-back NCAA titles on the rings and that helped PSU win the 2004 NCAA championship. He was going to end his career then and there, but the thought of representing the United States and competing in Beijing overwhelmed him. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch him perform on the rings Saturday afternoon on NBC and he looked great.

In a recent interview by Frank Fitzpatrick, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tan said, "If I make the team, my father is planning on returning to China." His mother passed away in 2000. "I know it will be a thrill for him to go back to the land where he was born." Thanks to Kevin, his father will have that chance, but traveling to his ancestral home will not come cheaply. The cost is estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per person. That's a lot of money to send a small - but very important - support group of Jessie, his father, brother and sister-in-law to Beijing to cheer him on.

Not only is Kevin a proud American, I'm proud of him and all the rest who will represent us. I'm proud for Jessie, too, and proud for the good old United States of America. Hooray for the red, white and blue. I hope he wins the gold.

Go, Kevin, Go



  1. Dave - This was a great story. We just found this today. Hope you don't mind that we linked to this post today at our site.

    Your story deserves to be read by more gymnastics fans!


  2. Thank you very much for the link and compliment. I've gotten a lot of readers from your website.

    I am going to cross post your comment on my other blog:

    The story is a little more refined and your readers seem to be going to that post and I keep it more updated.

    Again, thank you.