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Family Travels to S. Korea to Support Son, US World Cup Team - 2002-06-14

While U.S. Soccer team players have been enjoying their experience at the World Cup in South Korea, their families are also having an opportunity to share in the fun. Sports Editor Parke Brewer visited in Seoul with the Hejduk family from California.

George and Judy Hejduk are from Cardiff, California. Their son Frankie is 27-years-old and is a starting defenseman for the U.S. Soccer team. He played on the 1998 U.S. World Cup team and was also one of the three over age 23 players on the U.S. team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Hejduk started playing soccer at the age of four and competed for top youth club teams in California before playing in high school and then in college at the University of Southern California (UCLA). In high school, he was also a member of the California state and national championship surfing team, and he still loves to surf in his spare time.

He started his professional career in 1996 with U.S. Major League Soccer's Tampa Bay Mutiny. But after his performance at the 1998 World Cup, Frankie Hejduk signed a three-year guaranteed contract with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. He has since signed an extension that will kept him there through the 2003 season.

His mother Judy, a flight attendant with American Airlines, told VOA Sports about what it was like to have her only son leave to play soccer overseas.

"I knew he was on a new adventure and a whole new world would open up. And I was very happy," she says. "And my son has been blessed to be over in Germany. It has been very difficult. He did not speak German. He learned it very quickly. And I am excited for him in Germany, but I know having a son, he really wants to be back. But you never know what this World Cup is going to bring. It is maybe a whole other step."

Frankie Hejduk's father, George, a high school teacher, was asked if he could have ever imagined his son playing the for USA in two World Cups.

"Not really. But you know things evolved. You go through that soccer process of elimination getting on bigger and better teams, and things worked out well," he says.

Both George and Judy Hejduk told me they get a bit nervous when they are watching son Frankie play in big games.

"I am so, using his [surfer] term, stoked [excited]. I am jumping out of my skin," she exclaims. " My husband is so nervous, because he is non-stop. He sits down and then he sees him warming up, and he is last out [on the field], and he says, 'Where is he, where is he?' And then he gets up, climbs over people, goes and walks somewhere else, back and forth. I am just ready to cheer. I do not have a voice the next day. I wait until everybody else is quiet and then I yell something out that he [Frankie] hears us. And he will give us the surfer hanging loose sign," she adds, wiggling the thumb and pinkie finger back and forth with three fingers in the middle bent down, " that lets us know that, ' We heard you Mom, we know you are there Dad.' "

The U.S. Soccer Federation has a special program for players' families who made the journey to South Korea for this World Cup. Federation officials arranged lodging in Seoul and transportation to all the Americans' games. They also set up special sightseeing and shopping trips, as well as a visit to the U.S. Ambassador's home.

Defenseman Frankie Hejduk says it is great to have the players' families in Korea.

"You know, they are the ones who have been supporters of our careers the whole time. And they are the ones who basically have made this chance happen," he says. "You know, they have been with us from day one, you know, since we were four-years-old on the field. It is good to be around them to kind of thank them, to let them know that, hey, you are part of this too. You are the reason why I am here."

And Frankie Hejduk told VOA Sports he tries to see his parents once a day in Korea, and he thanks Coach Bruce Arena for giving him and his teammates that opportunity.

"We hang out, watch the games, and you know, just kind of sit back, hang out, relax at bit, you know, just like you would at home. So it has been a really great atmosphere.," he says. "And Bruce Arena has given us that opportunity to let the families come in. A lot of the teams do not let their families come in, and I think it is great that Bruce has done that because they are part of this too, and they are the reason a lot of the players that are here are here."

And, like the Hejduks, the U.S. Soccer team family members plan to keep following the team until it is eliminated from this World Cup.