EASY MAGAZINE: Fordes’ fairy tale
Ji-Young Choi-Forde and her husband, well-known Barbadian cyclist Barry Forde agree their marriage “just fits like a puzzle.”
Looking adoringly at Barry, Ji-Young said, “It is really hard to explain with us. Our chemistry from the beginning was just like we have known each other for ages, and we really got along just like today. We are best friends.”
A casual meeting in a train station in Cologne, Germany, a few years ago, developed into a friendship that has resulted in a three year marriage. Barry said “it was not one of these fairy tale relationships from the beginning,” as theirs was indeed a chance meeting.
Of the hundreds of people waiting in the train station that day, it was convenient to turn to this girl standing nearby, who like him, spoke English amidst all the German and other languages he was hearing all around him, to ask the time. Then still competing as an international cyclist, he was on his way to prepare for another cycling engagement.
A train delay presented an opportunity for the two strangers to chat over coffee, engaging in “a very platonic conversation”.
Asked what attracted her to the Bajan, Ji-Young said: “I think it was more like his approach. He was friendly and he was smiling.” Barry on the other hand surmised it was “probably my dreadlocks.”
She remembered “He asked me for the time and we just started talking. We had a coffee and then we just kept in contact.”
Widely travelled, she was familiar with Caribbean culture. “We just started talking about him coming from Barbados. My parents are from Korea, but I was born in Germany and grew up there. I had lived in many places such as Brooklyn for about four years and so I had a lot of Caribbean neighbours.”
Over time the new friends remained in contact even as they went their separate ways, engaged in their own busy life.
“He was travelling, I was working; sometimes he would send me an e-mail, sometimes we would chat. He called me a couple of times and eventually we just got closer because I wasn’t really interested in him in the beginning,” said Ji-Young.
And Barry admitted, “I never was really looking into Asian girls.”
But there was something special about this Asian girl that drew him in. They shared some common interests, such as her love for “a lot of reggae music”.
They kept the relationship on a platonic level for “a very long time.”
“I guess we were really good friends,” Ji-Young said, admitting there was some apprehension on her part about getting more involved in a relationship with the Barbadian sportsman because of “the whole stigma of him being an athlete and travelling”.
“I was looking at it as a platonic relationship. He was all over the world and I had a lot of friends in the United States who are professional athletes in the NBA and NFL, so I know their life and I know how they are and I really wasn’t interested. I was very much into my career.”
She was also a single mother and Barry was also a father.
Travelling as extensively as he did, meeting and perhaps being pursued by women naturally attracted by the aura of his star status as an international competitor, the question had to be asked, “How did he decide this was the one?”
He replied, “We always really had good conversations and I think we became pretty good friends. Travelling wasn’t easy – four months in Australia, one month back in Germany, then I would be back in some other place for some other race, South America for two months, but I guess when I realised I was coming to the end of my career then it was pretty much straightforward. I didn’t have any place to travel and she was just different out of the rest of the girls . . . so it was not that hard.”
But even at this stage Ji-Young was being cautious, even though she realised she liked him.
It was a long time before the two went on a real date. Ji-Young recalled: “I think he was in Australia. He just asked me if I was actually interested in having a date when he was going to return (to Germany) but that was literally after like a year or so.”
A boyish smile stole across Barry’s face when his wife related how “We were at my parents’ house and Barry said ‘we should get married’. He later proposed in Cologne.
Since both were travelling, they settled for a simple civil ceremony performed by a magistrate, with just her sister and a few very close friends in attendance and they celebrated with a late lunch afterwards.
They are happy to be legally man and wife, but Ji-Young still wants to have a traditional wedding in a church “because we are both Christians.” She wants their union to be declared “before God”, with both families present to share the moment, and they are planning to have such a second wedding ceremony soon.
It means a lot to Ji-Young who said “When I brought Barry home, I was a little bit nervous because at that point he had dreadlocks and tattoos. But I knew he was a refined person. But my parents had absolutely no problem. My parents adore him, my mother loves him. Sometimes I think she loves him more than me.”
Adjusting to life in Barbados has been an easy for the Korean who speaks four languages. She claims a love for Barbados where she identifies a similarity between the Korean lifestyle and family values she knows.
Meanwhile the transition from sportsman in the limelight to husband has also been smooth for Barry who is now a high performance coach and trainer, with personal training clients in Europe.
In addition to his own responsibilities and business commitments he has taken on the support role for his wife, an interior designer for residential properties, as a retail designer and an expert in visual and event merchandising. In Barbados she has recently been working in retail brand development.
“We pretty much work together in the sense that each project that she does I am very involved,” Barry said, and
Ji-Young added, “We are very involved in each other’s lives. We spend a lot of time together. I would always ask him for his opinion and he would give me advice.”
However Ji-Young said they both make accommodation for their “different personalities as well”.
“Barry is a much disciplined person and we basically learn from each other. I am very creative, and he has a passion for interior design and anything visual so we kind of share that.”
Returning the compliment Barry said, “she is very good at what she does” and he went on to remark “her personality and mine, we really don’t need to plan. It is spontaneous.”
That spontaneity runs through their business and domestic life.
“I think that is one of the best qualities that Ji has that complements me. We are just open to everywhere that we go and in the things we do together. When we travel other girls would like to do a lot of shopping but like me, she likes to go and see the place, indulge in the culture . . . in the food . . . .”
On the topic of food, life in the Fordes’ kitchen is a culinary adventure. Ji-Young, according to Barry, “can cook anything” and she teases his palate with a wide range of dishes. To his delight, she has embraced Bajan cooking, down to her favourite dish of red herring and breadfruit cou cou but gives way to him at the grill where she acknowledged he has a particular skill.
In Barry, Ji-Young identified a strength of character which drew her in. “Barry is very straightforward. If he has a goal he will get to that goal no matter what. He is much focused.”
With his trademark grin, the former Barbadian cyclist who has lived in Japan, Australia, South Africa, South America and other places responded, “She knows that I always loved her but it wasn’t so straightforward with her.”
To him his wife simply was different.