Ever heard of Kevin Tan? No? You will.

When my best friend, Stewart Bacheler and his then wife, Janice, tried to have children many years ago, something didn’t work. Realizing that having their own was going to be a problem, they chose to adopt and turned to an agency that brought infants and toddlers from South Korea to America. After becoming proud and loving parents of baby Jessie, they thought she should have a brother and along came Josh. I remember when I first met Jessie. She was as cute as cute can be.

I moved to Florida in 1981, but each year I’d make the journey back to my home state of New Jersey to see my friends, mostly from Flemington, at our legendary (in our minds, anyway) down the shore “Big Chill” party at the Bacheler’s summer home on Pelham Avenue in Beach Haven. I had the same downstairs bedroom each time I visited there for the week. It was called Heidi’s Room for Stewart’s niece. Stewart’s mother was quite the Pennsylvania Dutch interior decorator, so Heidi’s name was ornately painted on the sliding bedroom door.

We would all would meet at that house on Friday and party well into the night. We were still pretty young then. Stewart and I were always the first ones up in the morning and we’d travel back up the boulevard to Marvel’s Market for fresh, deep-fried doughnuts. In the meantime, we’d brew a pot of coffee and that would, one-by-one, rouse the others. Stewart and I sat out on the shady front porch to catch up on what we had been up to and to enjoy the morning ocean breeze wafting by before the scent of suntan lotion filled the air. Plus, we had first dibs on the still warm doughnuts and fresh coffee.

This one particular morning was a little different. About 7 AM, I was awakened by a banging on my bedroom door and very young cries of “Unca Day! Unca Day!” which was Jessie’s special way of telling me, “Uncle Dave, it’s time to get up!” I heard Stewart stumble out to try to quiet her, but I was already awake and the thought of finally getting to see her was a lot more important than sleeping another minute. For months, he had told me how excited she was to meet Uncle Dave. Believe me, I felt the same way about her. I put some pants and a shirt on and slid the door open. When I looked down, this sweet little girl was staring up at me with bright brown eyes. She couldn’t have been two feet tall and I melted on the spot. Quickly, I scooped her up in my arms and we hugged each other tightly. It was something I will never forget.

That was in July of 1983. How quickly she and her brother grew up. Jessie graduated from Penn State and Josh moved to Hawaii, where he goes to the state university there. After Stewart and Janice divorced, he married An, a wonderful person, and the two of them eventually settled in Florida. At least, I haven’t changed much since those early days. I was bald then and I still am. Unfortunately, that beach house was sold and razed when his folks got a bit too old to maintain it. Oh, the stories we could all tell of that place.

Jessie is quite successful now. She ended up staying in the land of the Nittany Lions after graduating and is the marketing and public relations manager at WHVL, a TV station in State College. She and her boyfriend, Kevin Tan, a Fremont, California native, own a house they share with two dogs, but alas, her boyfriend spends a lot of time away from home. That’s because he is a gymnast. Oh, not your garden variety ‘bouncing around on a mat’ kind of guy. No, not exactly. From what I understand, he is ranked number one in the country on still rings and he’s a top contender on parallel bars. That is why, on June 22, he was named to the U.S. Olympic team after competing Friday and Saturday on rings, parallel bars, high bar and pommel horse. Kai Wenor Kevin – as we will get to know him by his more English sounding name, will travel to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics. His father, Peter Tan, was born in Taiwan after his parents fled the mainland in 1949. There, he met Kevin’s mother.

KEVIN TAN – Credit: Al Bello / Getty Images

Kevin, who has a degree in financing, was a six-time All-American at Penn State, and is the assistant gymnastics coach there. He earned a scholarship in gymnastics and won back-to-back NCAA titles on the rings (2003-2004) and that helped PSU win the 2004 NCAA championship. He was an all-conference honoree, winning both the still rings and parallel bars titles at the 2004 Big Ten Championships and his still rings crown was his third-consecutive championship in the event. That was going to be the end of his career, but the thought of representing the United States and competing in Beijing overwhelmed him. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch him perform on the rings Saturday afternoon on NBC and he looked great.

In a recent interview by Frank Fitzpatrick, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Tan said, “If I make the team, my father is planning on returning to China.” His mother passed away in 2000. “I know it will be a thrill for him to go back to the land where he was born.” Thanks to Kevin, his father will have that chance, but traveling to his family’s ancestral home will not come cheaply. The cost is estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000 per person. That’s a lot of money to send a small – but very important – support group of Jessie, his father, brother and sister-in-law to Beijing to cheer him on.

Not only is Kevin a proud American, I’m proud of him and all the rest who will represent us. I’m proud for Jessie, too, and proud for the good old United States of America. Hooray for the Red, White & Blue. Congratulations, Kai Wen, I hope you win the gold.

Go, Kevin, Go



News Updates!

(Click headings for links)

SI: July 21, 2008: Kevin Tan named captain of U.S. men’s gymnastics team for Beijing Olympics

StickItMedia: Kevin Tan Selected Captain of U.S. Men’s Olympic Team

Log in and join Kevin’s growing fan club at Facebook

Read Kevin’s Profile at Team USA

2008 Olympic Games – Gymnastics Competition and Television Schedule

U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team Takes Bronze in Team Finals

After winning the Team Bronze, Captain Kevin Tan is interviewed by NBC. Photo courtesy of An Bacheler.

After winning the Team Bronze, Captain Kevin Tan is interviewed by NBC. Photo courtesy of An Bacheler.

Team gymnastics bronze elates Fremont’s Tan

Kevin and Jessie at the Great Wall of China.

©2008 David B. Knechel

26 thoughts on “Ever heard of Kevin Tan? No? You will.

  1. Hi, Jason –

    Unfortunately, you were stuck in spam comments for a while. After visiting your website, you’re not a spammer. Sometimes, WordPress does that and I don’t know why.

    Thanks for the compliment on the article. It is very much appreciated.

  2. I enjoyed reading your story. I am very proud of my daughter, Jessie, and Kai Wen (Kevin). He has chased this dream and I just knew he would make the US Olympic Team based solely on his intense desire to make the Team. He is number one in the country on still rings and one of the best in the world. He has a very good chance to earn a medal for the US. Go Kai Wen!

  3. Thanks, Stew, and I enjoyed writing it. I’m sure you are proud of Jessie and Kai, as well you should be. She looks really good on her web page. Gosh, I haven’t seen her in years now. I think it’s been since you lived in Frenchtown.

    What should we call him now? Lord of the Rings?

  4. Pingback: StickItMedia said...

  5. Thank you very much for the nice compliment and for linking to my post. I’ve gotten a lot of hits from your site.

    By far, this has turned out to be a very popular article for me and it was just something I wrote from my heart.


  6. Thanks for writing this and posting Jessie and Kevin’s photos. My son competed at Top Flight during the time Kevin was there before Kevin graduated from Mission San Jose High and went on to Penn. But our son was much younger, he was on Jivco’s team of boys in grade school then. Our son is now a junior at Santa Clara University, San Jose State is nearby. Jake is so happy for Kevin. Especially when we told him about making Captain of the team, no surprise there. To this day our favorite memory of Kevin was his rings performance for one of our Christmas shows when he did a rings routine with sun glasses on to the music My Future’s So Bright I’ve Gotta Wear Shades. At least, that’s how we remember it. As a gymnast’s mom, its nice to see Kevin do well after sitting in the gym watching daily for so long. You always wonder which talented gymnast would reach for the brass ring and find greatness. Thanks Kevin and Jessie for living your dream. Thanks for being an inspiration to Jake, who still enjoys fond memories of you and the other big guys from a long time ago. Jake and Colin’s mom, MSJHS 2006 and 2001: Top Flight 1997-2001

  7. And thank you, Elaine, for such a wonderful and heartwarming story about Kevin and Jake. Let them be the inspiration for future generations of gymnasts and all athletes. I hope Kevin and Jessie take their dream to the stars.

    You know – about your comment – I don’t think a better one could be written. I’ll make sure Kevin and Jessie are aware of it, for sure.

  8. Elaine:
    I’ve sent your comment to Kevin and it brought a smile to his face. He’s recieved so much support and love from everyone. Apparently there’s a Facebook fan page that’s growing in numbers daily. He’s gotten emails and calls from people he hasn’t seen in years or just people inspired by his story. We’re so thrilled to see his dream come true. Thanks Uncle Dave. We’ll bring you back something from China!

  9. Thanks, Jessie. If you give me the address to the fan page, I’ll link it to the post. [Addendum: I found the Facebook page and linked to it at the bottom of this article.]

  10. Jessie, Thank you and I’ll send the Facebook info onto Jake. He’s got a page there I’m sure. He can probably find the page. i hope more Top Flight families have sent him best wishes. We all remember the endless practices and weekends going to Sacramento or one meet in Hawaii( my favorite)with Hula Show. But enough about the past. Best of Luck!! Good Wishes!! Have a ball!!


  11. Dave, guess I heard of him now -:) Couldn’t be more proud of him, as a Nittany Lion graduate as well as a Chinese American. Wish him the best in Beijing which is happen to be my birth place.

  12. Hi, Sam –

    Yes, we are all very proud of Kevin, as well as all Olympians. I’ve always liked Penn State, too. I don’t know why, but it’s probably from having a lot of respect for Joe Paterno.

    Thanks for leaving a message for Kevin. There is a fan club set up on Facebook, if you want to go there and leave a few words. At the bottom of the article are news updates. One of them links to that site.

  13. Kevin Tan, I think, is not only talented, but a very very beautiful gorgeous man too!
    He is so good looking it hurts!

  14. I don’t look at men that way. I’m sure that’s the way his girlfriend looks at him, so I’ll just have to take your word for it.

    Thank you for your intimate thoughts, JB.

  15. Hello, Ina –

    Sorry I missed you yesterday, I drove to southwest Florida to spend the holiday (Labor Day in USA) weekend with friends.

    Yup, the bronze. I guess the US team was ranked 6th going in and the fact that the team came out third, with the Bronze, was a really good thing.

    Jessie is supposed to send me some pictures taken in Beijing, but you know kids, so I’m not holding my breath.

    Great to hear from you!

  16. Unca Day. You know, she still calls me uncle, too. Thank you Thinker Belle. Interestingly, her brother, Josh, graduated from UH and recently got a job here in Orlando. Stewart called me yesterday and asked if i could help find him a place to live. He’ll be here next month and it will be very nice seeing him and having him around.

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