When Caroline Park received a Facebook message in 2013 asking her if she would be interested in playing women’s hockey for South Korea at the Olympics, she thought it was fake.
Four years later, the forward from Brampton, Ont., is months away from trading her stethoscope for hockey skates at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
“I initially thought it was a spam email or someone kind of joking and pranking me, but turned out to be legit,” Park said in a phone interview from New York, where she’s currently studying medicine at Columbia University.
The 27-year-old Park is one of two Canadians playing for the host South Koreans along with Toronto forward Danelle Im. Former St. Francis Xavier goaltender So Jung Shin will be in net.
Park, who started med school in 2015 and plans to graduate in 2020, still has to finish another clinical rotation before taking a leave of absence and joining the team in October.
Between school and preparing for the Olympics, Park says the juggling act has its challenges.
“It’s definitely pretty tough in terms of time management, especially now that I’m in the clinical rotation for med school which is a lot more demanding in terms of time commitment,” Park said. ”So it’s been a bit of a challenge, I guess, trying to balance both.
“It’s a grind, but it’s fun.”
Hockey hasn’t always been Park’s sole hobby. As an actor she appeared in “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — although she never had any scenes with Drake — and “Naturally, Sadie” from 2005-07 while in high school.
Her acting career started at a young age when she was randomly selected to be in a Nike commercial and grew from there. She appeared in a few more commercials along with the TV shows.
“I kind of think what would of happened if I just kept acting, but I’m generally pretty well with how things have turned out now,” she said.
Park was recruited to Princeton University from the Mississauga Jr. Chiefs of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League and moved to New York after graduating. She was applying to med school while working at an orthopedic hospital when she received the Facebook message asking her if she would be interested in trying out for the South Koreans.
“It was really perfect timing,” she said. “If I had been in med school it would have been a lot more difficult to commit to that, but I went out there within a week.”
In order to play for South Korea, both Park and Im needed Korean citizenship. Park received hers in 2015 while Im obtained hers within the past year. Both players’ parents were born in Korea, making them eligible for the national team.
Park and Im had never met each other prior to their first trip to South Korea in 2013, but have seen their relationship grow in the past few years. Park’s family has since moved to Toronto and both her’s and Im’s families live down the street from each other.
“She’s a great person, great hockey player,” Park said. ”I kind of see her as my little sister, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to go out there and have her there with me to experience it.”
Im, 24, did an undergraduate degree at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., before moving back home to study nursing at Toronto’s Ryerson University. She played this past season with the Rams, scoring one goal and adding three assists in 20 games.
She says that the opportunity to play in the Olympics is a surreal experience.
“I never dreamt this would ever happen,” she said from Seoul, where the team is based.
“I don’t think I did much, I didn’t do anything for this. It’s a much different situation than someone who’s earned, worked hard for a spot on Team Canada, for example. Obviously it’s so different this way and I’m just grateful for this opportunity, it’s like a gift so I’m just very very thankful for this chance.”
The recruiting process to bring Park and Im aboard happened before coach Sarah Murray, a dual Canadian-American citizen, joined the team in 2014. But Murray says that the Canadians have fit well into the team.
“The players really accept them and they’ve integrated really well just because the players know they came before the Olympics were on the table,” Murray said. ”They came because they saw it was a really interesting opportunity and the players know they’re not just in it because of the Olympics.”