Detroit area skating tutor to revisit homeland
Farmington Hills — A 6-month-old girl was left next to a trash bin on the streets of Seoul in the winter of 1974 and wound up in an orphanage for a few years. She later stood at the bedside of her adopted parents as they slept, making sure they weren’t going to leave her, too.
Kim Muir was a toddler then, in Michigan, far from her homeland.
She is making an emotional return to South Korea this week as a renowned skating coach. She will cheer for a handful of her clients playing hockey at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. And the single mother is also planning to take her two children to Seoul, her home until a U.S. couple adopted her at the age of 4. She plans to meet with adoption agency officials and visit a facility intended to emulate life in an orphanage.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” Muir, now 45, said recently in an interview. “And, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my parents and this country.”
Albert and Lois Muir met their adopted daughter Sept. 1, 1976, in Chicago and brought her home to Trenton, a figure skating and hockey hotbed in the suburbs south of Detroit. She had a difficult transition because of the language barrier and fearing men simply because there were so few of them at the orphanage. She also remembers refusing to do anything, including going to the bathroom, without permission after she was adopted.
Trust was a tricky concept for the little girl to wrap her head around.
“She would get up during the night and come into our bedroom and just stand there and stare at us,” Lois Muir recalled. “Then, she would turn around and go back. Just making sure we didn’t leave her.”
Soon after moving to the U.S., Kim Muir took to figure skating and began competing at local events at the age of 7. She performed her first solo to “Daddy’s Little Girl,” and the memory still brings a twinkle to her proud parents’ eyes. As the daughter of a hockey coach and sister of two older brothers, both of whom played hockey, she spent endless hours on and around sheets of ice and could understand the language of hockey as if it was her native tongue.
When Muir was 15 and didn’t think she could become an Olympic-caliber skater, she chose to focus on coaching instead of competing. The ambitious teen launched her business, “Can’t Skate, Can’t Play,” with two students, Tony and Brad Zancanaro, and within six months she had 200 clients. At Lake Superior State University, she put herself on a pre-med path with degrees in biology and chemistry while working as a skating instructor for the school’s national championship-winning hockey teams.
She used her degrees to get a job at Detroit Receiving Hospital at the age of 22, but the pull of teaching hockey players how to skate won the battle.
Plymouth Whalers coach Peter DeBoer, who now leads the San Jose Sharks, hired her to instruct his Ontario Hockey League team a year later. She went on to work for the Carolina Hurricanes and Detroit Red Wings under former coach Mike Babcock.
“She taught my kids to skate, and she helped the Red Wings a lot when I was there,” said Babcock, who now coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs. “She’s a passionate lady who clearly knows what she is doing.”
Muir put 10 of her clients, including some already drafted in the NHL, through some drills recently. She gracefully and effortlessly glided on the ice — twisting, turning and pointing — to give the hockey prospects an edge over the competition.
“I’m known for my skating and it’s all because of her,” said 16-year-old Antonio Stranges, who has committed to play for the University of Michigan.
Muir strives to teach hockey players how to become more efficient, creative and confident skaters. She begins her instruction without a puck and then simulates situations to help hockey players skate their best when shooting, passing and taking a hit.
When U.S. Olympic hockey players James Wisnewski of Canton and Megan Keller were growing up in the Motor City, they were among Muir’s many pupils.
“You see these figure skaters: They’re pretty unbelievable at skating,” Wisnewski said. “To be able to learn your edges from those people is always great.”
Bobby Sanguinetti, playing for the Americans at the Olympics, became a client after connecting with her in Carolina. Muir counts two other Olympians among her former clients: Canada’s Marc Andre Grignani and the Czech Republic’s Michal Jordan.
Muir’s clients say her expertise on how to get the most from their skating, particularly their stride and their edge work, is unparalleled.
“When it gets down to the technical stuff, she’s obviously probably one of the most knowledgeable and just helps you with little things,” Sanguinetti said. “For a defenseman that pivots, trying to keep (turns) it, she was a lot of help for me.”
Anyone who knows Muir raves about her and can’t be in her presence without giving or getting a hug.
“Kim has so much energy that she lights up any room she’s in,” said Jim Wisnewski, whose son, a former NHL defenseman, played for the U.S. at the Olympics. “On the ice, my kid would always say, ‘I wish I could skate half as good as her.’ Off it, she’s got an energetic walk. And, she’s always smiling ear to ear.”
Her dad was, too, sitting on a stool next to his wife and reflecting on the life his daughter has had. Talking about it, though, was tough to do.
“It’s wonderful,” Albert Muir said, fighting back tears.
Kim Muir and her children live in suburban Detroit. Her only memory from the orphanage was getting in trouble for taking shoes off another child in what she describes a survival-of-the-fittest environment. She didn’t want to go back to Seoul — she was scheduled to arrive Wednesday — without sharing the experience with her 9-year-old son, Vincenzo, and 8-year-old daughter, Alexis, along with the thrill of witnessing the Olympics.
“I didn’t make it to as an athlete, but I’m making it as a coach,” she said. “To be able to support my clients and take my kids back to the orphanage that I came from, that’s going full circle.”