Kim goes from the track to the bookshelves

Former Michigan State track athlete publishes first book -- "Four Years Two Roads: Finding Eternal Significance in High School" -- and prepares for more as his plans change and he hopes to have an impact on social justice issues.

When the month of February ended in 2011, Derek Kim was committed to run track at Penn. Before the end of March, he wasn't.

A senior at Novi High School, Kim had it all planned out. He fell in love with everything about Penn on his official visit. He was going to attend an Ivy League school with enough scholarship funding for it to cost the same as an in-state education at Michigan State.

He knew it was a stretch to get in with his 3.7 grade point average and 26 ACT score, but the coaches at Penn said they could provide help.

But he didn't get in. He remembers the call from the Quakers' coach Robin Martin vividly.

"He called me and it was a tough conversation," he said. "He was like, ‘Derek, I don't know how to tell you this, but we couldn't get you in.' I was furious and I usually don't get mad."

Frustrated, he sought a new destination. As he did, another plan was forming – a plan and a path that Kim can't explain, but that's just the way he likes it.

"If you can explain it, then it probably wasn't God," he says.

Three years later, as February drew to a close and with much he can't explain, Kim is celebrating the release of his first book as a student at Michigan State.

Growing inspiration

Kim found himself going back to options he passed on when he committed to Penn. The sport he started in seventh grade just because his friends were doing it had created future possibilities.

"My dream was to play college football," he said. "It was like, this is what I want to do, but I never got over 170 pounds and track started taking off my junior year."

He placed in conference and regional meets in the 110-meter hurdles his junior year, but tripped on the final hurdle in the state meet. It didn't hurt his recruitment, which he feared it might, as he placed fifth in the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., as a junior in 4x110-meter shuttle hurdles relay.

He had choices, but nothing felt right after Penn fell through. Boston University would be too expensive. Azusa Pacific was too far from home.

His parents pushed him to Michigan State, but he had his reservations. He was a diehard Michigan fan after spending five years in Ann Arbor before moving to nearby Novi.

But his parents continued to push for the education he could receive – in the field he desired – and the chance to run track at a major level, even if it wasn't on scholarship.

"You can't really lose," Kim said. "You get to run in the Big Ten and you get to go to one of the better journalism schools in the country."

The senior class president and homecoming king was one of the final people in his class to decide on a college, but he did so in early April. He would attend Michigan State to study journalism and would walk-on to the track team and run with a focus in the 110-meter hurdles.

"Coach Randy Gillon was super generous to say you can come be a part of the team," Kim said. "He said I can't guarantee you anything, but I came and I got to compete at the highest level."

He finished as a conference and regional champion as a senior and as he graduated a couple weeks later, he found inspiration in all of his high school experiences and decided he would write a book.

Becoming an author

"Four Years Two Roads: Finding Eternal Significance in High School" was born from the feeling of self-discovery and world discovery as a high schooler.

"There was a message on my heart I wanted to pass on to the next generation," Kim said. "I had been blessed with so much, however, it didn't even compare to what I experienced just through knowing Christ."

From missions trips to Africa and Jamaica to involvement in his high school youth group at Oak Pointe Church, he had something to say about his Christian faith and he wanted to share it.

"Jesus talks about the narrow road and the wide road," he said. "It's just this realization that if you want to follow Jesus, you have to be willing to be uncommon.

"It's a message that younger people really need to hear."

Kim, who said he became a Christian in seventh grade, set about the authoring process as soon as he graduated. He saw long days and longer nights juggling obligations.

"Those first two years of college were absolutely brutal," he said. "It was literally classroom days, practice afternoon, training room, eat, do my homework then stay up until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. sometimes just writing."

Two years later, in the summer of 2013, he finished writing and began sending the manuscript to publishing houses and literary agents.

The rejection letters began pouring in.

"I think I got close to 30 rejection letters," he said. "I knew that was the nature of it. I knew people were going to look at it as this is a kid in college and not really a mega-platform, but I think my whole life has been a story of God's faithfulness."

A published college student

In October, a letter from Concerning Life Publishing came in the mail. The Grand Rapids-based publisher saw the potential in his book and offered him a contract.

"I was humbled because realizing that I couldn't explain it," Kim said.

The 20-year-old wrestled with waiting in case other options came along, but the clock was ticking. The thought of publishing a book while in college – as he says, while a good platform exists – was too great.

He signed the contract in December and lined up his good friend and Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell to write the foreword. As everything fell into place with "Four Years Two Roads," his track career changed as a right hamstring that had plagued him previously began acting up. He called it quits in December.

"It was really tough, but coach and I just came to a mutual decision that I wasn't competing the way I wanted to and I felt like I was being led in another direction," Kim said. "To be honest, I always knew the book was something I wanted to do, but I could only do 4 a.m.'s for so long before I just crash."

He still runs with his former teammates and leads a team bible study through the on-campus ministry group Athletes in Action, so it feels like not much has changed.

"I almost feel like I haven't left," Kim said. "Now, I really have that time aspect and I get to interact with them on a new level.

"I kind of get the best of both worlds."

With the publishing process speeding along, the editing was completed in January and Concerning Life got the book to the presses.

"What I really appreciated about Concerning Life is they really believed in my product and really believed in this book," he said. "That's why they moved it forward so quickly. Some publishing houses, it takes years, but they just put it on the assembly line."

On shelves with opportunities

When the month of February ended, Kim saw his book hit the shelves, but he is not done with just one. Concerning Life wants to see more from him and other agencies that previously rejected him have been in touch.

A college version of "Four Years Two Roads" might be the next in store, a natural progression as he is set to graduate in December 2014.

"Writing a book, I learned so much about it and you've really gotta have a distinct passion and a platform for what you're going to write," he said.

The way he sees it, everything has lined up for him to have a unique platform to love other people. He spent last weekend in Baltimore when his best friend and former Michigan State linebacker Chris Norman recommended him to a church in Baltimore.

"Chris gets a ton of speaking requests," Kim said. "This church in Baltimore asked him to come out and they asked if he knew anyone else that could also come and he told them about my book."

It was his first chance to share about "Four Years Two Roads" and he will follow it up with a speaking engagement at Lansing Christian on Tuesday.

He hopes that springboards into more, even if his time in East Lansing might be coming to an end soon.

Open doors, changing plans

The doors have continued to open for Kim and as they have, plans have changed.

His pursuit of journalism to bring awareness to human rights violations around the world has morphed into a plan for law school come the fall of 2015 – "to have a more direct impact," Kim said.

He sees how continuing to write and pursuing a law degree co-exist, especially if the timing falls into place now that track is out of the picture.

"When I see my writing, I think it's just an extension of my passion for the truth of the word of God," he said. "When I read the gospels, Jesus, he cared about social justice. He cared for the least of these, so I really see the social justice element.

"I will be applying for law school, but if everything with this literary agency works out, I will have this gap between December 2014 and September 2015, so I might try to knock out my college one in that time."

First, he will spend the summer in Colorado Springs with Compassion International, which focuses on aid and support for children around the world.

"Compassion's vision is really identical to that of my own heart," he said. "Their slogan is releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name."

Come the fall and his final semester, Kim hopes to spend it in his native South Korea at Yonsei, his father's alma mater. The thought to study abroad hadn't been a serious one before for Kim, as running track prevented it from being an option.

Having lived in England and the United States, he wants to head back to his birthplace in Seoul, but also because he finds the North Korean human rights crisis hitting close to home.

"I was born 35 miles from the border," he said. "The fact that I get these opportunities that I have gotten and there are people that are starving and don't have religious freedom, it comes back to whoever has been given much, much more will be required of them."

For Kim, he has no doubt he has been given much, even if he can't explain it. From his experiences running track at Michigan State to his education to now being a published author, he just sees opportunities to help those in need.

"As I look back on my life," he said, "everything from things not working out with Penn then going to MSU, tripping at the state finals, scoring at nationals, I have no room to boast because I can't explain how all this happened.

"I just don't want to waste my life. That's kind of the whole premise is living for this eternal significance. I want students to get that out of the book."


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