Andrew Heo Has Found His Home On And Off The Ice

by Karen Price

Andrew Heo recently reached two big milestones in his life and his speed skating career.

First, he recently made his senior world championship debut. Heo was among eight U.S. national team members who competed at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships March 5-7, 2021 in the Netherlands. The second is that two days after the competition ends, he said goodbye to being a teenager and turned 20 years old.

“It doesn’t feel like it,” he said recently stepping into his next decade.

The teenage years are meant to be a time of growth and change, and that’s certainly been true for Heo. Not only has he continued to develop into one of the country’s top short track skaters, but he’s also found new communities both in his faith and his Korean heritage since moving to Utah to pursue his sport at the age of 15. 

Heo grew up in Warrington, Pennsylvania, a suburb north of Philadelphia. When he was still young, his uncle’s family moved from the city to a town in Maryland and his cousins soon began speed skating at the
Potomac Speedskating Club where he was coached by a Korean Olympic Gold Medalist, Kim Dong Sung. First to join them in the sport was Heo’s older brother, Aaron. A year or two later, they coaxed young Andrew onto the ice after watching him zip around on his inline skates.

For years, the family split time between Warrington and Maryland as the brothers continued to pursue the sport. But that meant that Andrew had very little opportunity for a social life, and without a close group of friends he admits middle school wasn’t easy.

The past few years have been different. 

For starters, Heo found a church home and has a college group that used to meet in person before COVID-19 and now gets together through Zoom.

“I’ve been a Christian my whole life but after moving out here I really got involved with a church community,” he said. “I’ve just been getting into it ever since I’ve been here, my faith and just trying to strengthen my relationship with God.” 

He and a friend also recently started a plan that will have them read the Bible cover to cover over the span of a year.

“I just always wanted to do it,” said Heo, who does his reading every morning as he eats breakfast to help start his day. “I just finished day 56.”

Another change has been his increased interest in Korean culture.

Heo’s father came to the U.S. when he was a boy and Heo’s mother came when she was a teenager. Being born here, he said, Korean culture wasn’t a big part of his life growing up outside of listening to some Korean music and looking up to Korean speed skaters. 

Korean was, however, his first language. He began losing it, he said, around the time his brother started going to school.

“Then a few years ago I was randomly sitting in a restaurant and started remembering how to read it and what the letters and characters were,” he said. “Ever since then I’ve been slowly getting better at it. After I started going to international competitions, I made Korean friends and I’ve been talking to them trying to have conversations. I’m pretty good at writing and reading it. Speaking it I’m still a little iffy. I want to get to the point where I can speak and understand it.”

That’s something that makes his mom happy, he said. 

“Funny story, my dad actually didn’t know any Korean at all when he met my mom; I guess he lost it all, too,” Heo said. “She said, ‘If you don’t learn Korean I won’t marry you.’ She had to teach him and now he speaks it. He’s not the best at reading or writing it but when he speaks it sounds like he’s fluent. But my mom is happy I’m trying to learn more.”

Part of being a teenager and coming into one’s own, of course, also includes figuring out a career path and Heo’s not unlike lots of 19-year-olds when he says he’s not quite sure about that part just yet. He’s taking a math class at the University of Utah this semester, but doesn’t know what he wants to major in. He’s thought about something in design and technology, perhaps app development, but won’t worry about that too much when so much of his focus is on skating and pursuing his Olympic dream. 

Competing in the world championships brings him a little closer to that goal.

It’s an unusual set of circumstances for making a world championship debut, given that the team hasn’t traveled to any international competitions yet this season due to COVID-19. But after making an “A” final for the first time at a world cup competition last season, he’s looking forward to the opportunity.

“(Coach Wilma Boomstra) and I discussed me just going out and trying my best and seeing what happens,” he said. “I skate my best when I’m not thinking about results and just go out and skate. That’s my mentality and I’m going to just try to get some experience and see what I can do.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.