It is possible that the sisters — who did everything together as kids — would face each other off on the ice hockey rink on Pyeongchang in February. Marissa plays for South Korea, while Hannah plays for the United States.
Greg and Robin Brandt adopted Marissa from South Korea when she was four months old. It was only last year when she obtained South Korean citizenship, which she originally lost as one of over 160,000 native-born Korean children who were adopted overseas since the 1950s.
The sisters grew up doing pretty much everything together. “I’m a year older than she is, but my mom, when we were younger, had us in everything together, like dance, figure skating, gymnastics, everything,” Marissa told NBC News.
These activities included going to a Korean camp when she was 10, which she did not exactly like, but Hannah loved.
“I remember I did not like going. But my sister loved it. So we kept going back for her because my mom thought it would be funny to just send her to Korean camp without me,” Marissa told PRI in June.
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The Brandt family is no stranger to questions about the sisters. For one, Hannah recalled, “We would tell people [when we were younger], ‘This is my sister Marissa.’ And people would say, ‘Oh I don’t believe you.’”
Nevertheless, the sisters played side-by-side for years until college, when they had to part ways. Their love of ice hockey, however, remained, though it was Hannah who always dreamed of getting into the Olympics.
Marissa’s spot in the South Korean team is an unexpected twist of fate. It was in her senior year at Gustavus Adolphus College, a liberal arts school in Minnesota, when Rebecca Baker, the goalie coach for Team South Korea, called.
It appears that Baker heard about Marissa from her husband — a goalie coach as well — who worked with the University of Minnesota, where Hannah attended.
“I didn’t know what to say right away. It was out of the blue. I remember it was finals weeks of my senior year of college. And this was the last thing on my mind, you know?” Marissa said.
Despite this, Marissa eventually accepted Baker’s invitation and flew to South Korea for the first time. Adjusting to her new environment, however, was challenging. She did not enjoy the pungent odor of some Korean dishes and barely spoke Hangul.
Thankfully, she adjusted with the help of players from the U.S. and Canada. She taught her teammates English and learned Korean in return.
For now, Marissa looks forward to the Pyeongchang Games to represent her home country. She told NBC News:
“When I was growing up, I wanted nothing to do with being Korean. I just wanted to fit in here and look like my sister and not be Asian. I never was proud to say I was Korean. I didn’t want to tap into that at all. So actually going back and being able to represent my country, it’s made me more proud of where I’m from and definitely I feel more connected to my roots.”
The Brandt parents, who have discussed coming to South Korea for years, feel that their first visit is unbelievable. Robin told the Star Tribune in July:
“This was always Hannah’s dream, to make it to the Olympics. For Marissa to get there, too, it’s a bonus. I don’t think we’ll really believe it’s happening until we’re there.”