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SEA4 Podcast: Southeast Asian Athlete Achievement > Adversity

SEA4 Podcast: Southeast Asian Athlete Achievement > Adversity

By Lao American Sports Hall of Fame
The SEA4 Podcast aims to bring the stories of refugees from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam and their American-born descendants into the mainstream. By focusing on athletes and other accomplished individuals who have overcome adversity we hope to inspire others to pursue their dreams. John Messina and Ko Chandetka from the Lao American Sports Hall of Fame will be interviewing athletes and others who represent the diverse cultures of Southeast Asia including Lao, Laotian, Khmu, Khmer, Hmong, Vietnamese, Lu Mien, Cham, and others.
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David Phrathep: Lao American baseball player and medical student
Arnold Schwarzenegger's six rules for success are, trust yourself, break some rules, don’t be afraid to fail, work like hell and give something back. The first time David Phrathep stepped onto the baseball field he was the underdog. From being told that he wasn’t cut out for little league to taking a shot as a college walk-on, David used that negative energy as fuel and became the first know Lao-American to play at the NCAA Division 1 level. Behind his success was a supportive family that did everything they could to help their son stay on a successful path all while learning to navigate through life in a new country and culture.  David’s baseball career is behind him and he now looks forward to giving back to his Lao community as a medical doctor.   Video footage/photos courtesy of the University of Central Florida Athletics Department
September 08, 2022
Christa Camvongcau Atwood: Laotian American Airline pilot
When it comes to chasing your dream, they say, “it’s not the destination but the journey”.  Pilot Christa Camvongcau Atwood is on the journey of a lifetime, chasing her dream from destination to destination through the skies. From her humble beginnings as a refugee to taking the controls of an A320 Christa is breaking down barriers in a male-dominated industry. Her story shows us that when it comes to dreams, not even the sky is the limit. She now dreams of passing her passion on to the next generation.  
August 24, 2022
Linda Sayavongchanh: Basketball Player & NCAA D1 Coach
Linda Sayavongchanh was introduced to basketball in elementary school, a sport that was foreign to her parents who had recently resettled in America as refugees from Laos. At Des Moines-Lincoln High School she would score a staggering 1,630 points, be crowned Miss Iowa Basketball and was named Gatorade player of the year before signing with Drake University.  After an amazing college career with the Drake Bulldogs she would continue pursuing her passion, this time through coaching. Linda recently wrapped up an accomplished coaching tenure with Creighton University and is currently an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator with Indiana University. Identified by the Des Moines Register as one Iowa’s top 50 female basketball players of all time Linda is a member of the Lincoln High School Hall of Fame, the Iowa Girls High School Hall of Fame and of course, the Lao American Sports Hall of Fame. Music: Summer 1984-RKVC
August 15, 2022
Nara Sihavong: Wrestler, coach, entrepreneur & philanthropist.
When we featured Folkstyle national champion and Stanford University wrestler Dawson Sihavong as a rising star in the Lao American Sports Hall of Fame it quickly became apparent that Dawson’s journey to the top began a generation earlier in war-torn Laos. Nara Sihavong came to the United States as a refugee in 1978. A mere seven years later he made history when in 1985 he joined the wrestling team at George Mason University and became the first known Lao American to compete at the NCAA Division I level.  Nara would go on to have a successful career, founding companies and building philanthropy organizations all while giving back to the sport that he loves.  For over 30 years Nara has helped a new generation of wrestlers achieve their dreams including his own son, Dawson.   Music: Summer of 1984-RKVC
July 23, 2022
Maria Balang: 1st Lao-Lahu IFBB Bikini Pro
Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “in our society, the women who break down barriers are those who ignore limits.  That’s exactly what Maria Balang did.  Maria started working out to get in shape but soon found herself on the stage competing against women half her age.  This mother of four would go on to capture one of bodybuilding top honors, earning her IFBB pro card in the ultra-completive bikini division.  Maria’s accomplishments are not just a source of pride for her family but for her people, the Lahu. The Lahu are an ethnic group that lives in southern China and the golden triangle area of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.  Maria was among a small group of Lahu from Laos who settled in America as refugees after the secret war and shows us that the only limits are those in our minds.   Music: Summer 1984 -RTKV
July 10, 2022
Davy Phrathep: Baseball player and clinical psychologist on athlete performance and mental health
Davy Phrathep and his brother David took up baseball during their childhood in Florida. The brothers, whose parents were refugees from Laos, would go on to be the first known Lao Americans to compete at the NCAA Division I level. While Davy may have hung up his glove after graduating from Florida International University, he would merge his athletic experience with his academic pursuits and delve into the world of sports psychology. While pursuing a PHD in clinical psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Davy is working with The Optimum Performance Program, an applied research, and training program focused on the development, evaluation, and training of performance optimization programs for athletes. In this powerful episode, Davy will take us into the world of sports psychology and help Ko Chandetka unpack some of the struggles that he faced as a professional bodybuilder.
June 23, 2022
Lo Phong La Kiatoukaysy, aka Lil' Buddah: Hmong American through hiker
After the secret war in Laos Lo Phong La Kiatoukaysy and his family fled their Hmong village in the mountains and were resettled on the great plains of America. The family adapted to life in Kansas but would try and reconnect with their highland roots by vacationing in the Rocky Mountains. Lo Phong eventually headed to New York City exploring American counter-culture, finishing college, and working his way up the corporate ladder. On September 11th, 2001 he narrowly escaped the attack on the World Trade Center that left nearly 3,000 people dead. Shortly after La Phong walked away from city life, literally, by hiking his way across America.  Having logged over 48,000 miles he’s seen some of America’s most beautiful scenery, faced danger and met interesting characters along the way but most importantly remembers that Hmong means free. Music: Summer of 1984 -RKVC
June 04, 2022
Justin Phongsavanh: Lao-American Paralympic Athlete
Justin Phongsavanh was only two years old when he entered the Iowa foster care system after his biological parents were incarcerated.  He was raised by his adoptive mother in Ankeny, Iowa, and excelled at a variety of sports until at the age of 18 his life changed forever.  Justin was shot in a Mcdonald's parking lot after an encounter with a mentally disturbed military veteran.  The attack left Justin paralyzed and feeling hopeless until he was introduced to the world of adaptive sports.  Leading up to the 2020 Olympics Justin would break the F54 class world record in javelin before bringing home a bronze medal from Tokyo.  Justin continues his pursuit of excellence by competing in sports and giving back by helping other adaptive athletes achieve their potential.
June 02, 2022
Jennifer Chanthavong: Lao-American Muay Thai Fighter
Five feet tall, 184 lbs, and out of shape. That was Jennifer Chanthavong when in 2017, determined to take her life back, she walked into V-Fit martial arts of Arlington Texas. Jennifer started taking kickboxing classes to get in shape but soon found herself in the ring fighting against some of the best up-and-coming martial artists that Texas had to offer.  Throughout her journey, Jennifer has experienced the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat. Along the way, she has built herself into a brand and is a source of pride for the Lao community that she represents. This story is one of inspiration success, defeat, and most importantly about forging your own path in life. Music: Summer of 1984 -RKVC
May 25, 2022
Channing Cash: Team USA Para-rower from Laos
Channing Cash was born in a small village in Laos where at three years old she was attacked by a bull that had escaped from its pasture.   The attack left Channing unable to walk and was the catalyst behind her parent’s immigration to America as they sought better medical care and quality of life for their daughter.  Upon graduation from high school in Rockford, Illinois, Channing built a career as a mortgage professional and became known as the go to person for achieving the American dream of home ownership among Rockford’s large Lao community.  One day, Channing hit the reset button on her life and walked away from the corporate world. She relocated to Southern California to enjoy the outdoors and pursue her newly found passion for water sports.  As a member of the United States Para-Rowing team she took a shot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  Channing is living her life to the fullest and advocates for accessibility in national parks and the great outdoors for those with disabilities. 
May 18, 2022
Sam Leam: 1989 Stockton schoolyard massacre survivor
On January 17, 1989, a man walked onto the campus of Cleveland elementary school in Stockton California and unleashed a rain of terror that would leave five children dead and more than 30 others wounded.  The mentally disturbed perpetrator, Patrick Purdy, spent his childhood in and out of the foster care system and had a long criminal record and history of drug use and mental illness.  Most of the students at Cleveland elementary were refugees that had sought safety in America after fleeing the Khmer Rouge or escaping the aftermath of the wars in Laos and Vietnam.  Sam Leam was one such student and despite being shot three times he survived the attack. Sam will take us back to that tragic day and talk about how it impacted his life and the lives of others.  Sam is now focused on his passion for pets and is the proprietor of Sam & Sons Serpents and Bullies.  Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
April 20, 2022
Andre Soukhamthath: Lao MMA fighter
The call that every MMA fighter dreams of finally came in. The man they call the “Asian Sensation” had nine days to drop 25 lbs and get to Las Vegas for his UFC debut. Adversity was nothing new to Andre Soukhamthath and on March 04, 2017, he stepped into the cage securing his place in history as the first Lao American to fight in the UFC. Andre’s journey to the top wasn’t easy and but by his side and managing his career through the ups and downs is his wife, Jamie. Andre recently decided to hang up his gloves, so join as we talk through the tragedies, victories and what the future holds on Andre and his family. Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
April 14, 2022
Bobby Syvanthong: Lao / Khmu basketball player
Bobby Syvanthong started playing basketball at the age of four in the blue-collar town of Richmond California.  He would be crowned MVP at El Cerrito High School before heading to the east coast to play for the University of Maine at Fort Kent where he revolutionized their game. His talents would capture the eyes of scouts in Thailand and Bobby’s greatest honor would come when in 2018 he stepped on the court and represented a team from his ancestral homeland of Laos in the Thai Basketball Supper league.  Covid shut down the TBSL but Bobby continues his basketball dream through the club he founded with his cousin Timmy, the Bay Area Bullies. Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
April 07, 2022
Vanna In: Executive director of Hope Now for youth
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge launched a rain of terror that would result in the death and displacement of millions of people.  Vanna In and his family would escape the killing fields only to face a new war on, this time on the streets of America.  Caught between the emotional scars that the genocide left on his family and the gang violence of the 1990’s Vanna would head down a dark path as a teenager and into the criminal justice system after being convicted of second-degree murder.  This episode isn’t intended to be about gang violence, its about hope and redemption.  Vanna has dedicated his life to helping others find their place in this world and in 2018 was granted an unconditional pardon. Vanna is currently the executive director of Hope Now for Youth.  Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
March 24, 2022
David Boutsomsy: Lao-American powerlifter
Growing up in poverty and in an abusive home David Boutsomsy poured his energy into athletics. While running track and playing football in high school he was introduced to Powerlifting by a teacher. David would join the Delaware State University Football team and unsuccessfully try out for the NFL and Arena league before going all-in on bench press. The pain of David’s childhood would fade away when in 2016 he broke a world record and accepted a gold medal while representing the United States at the Pan America championships in Costa Rica.  This isn’t just a story about an accomplished athlete, David is a survivor, and gives back every day through his job as a South Bend police officer and dedicated father. Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
March 16, 2022
Cody Chhun: Khmer-American pro wrestler
Growing up Cody Chhun was a typical Seattle teenager and everyone expected him to head to college after high school.  Cody instead chose to forge his own path, into the world of professional wrestling.  Unbeknownst to his family, he would sneak off to wrestling school in nearby Everett to hone his craft.  Cody’s family has since warmed up to the idea and he proudly represents his ancestral homeland in the ring by wearing an Angkor Wat emblem.  It was the image of that famous temple that would catch the eye of some Cambodian wrestling fans.  From Long Beach to Lowell, Phnom Penh, to Paris, Cody’s performance in the ring became the talk of Khmer people around the world.  John and Ko talk to Cody about what it takes to make it in a sport that requires both athletics and acting as well as what it means to represent a people that have endured so much each time you step into the ring. Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
March 01, 2022
Toom Chanda: Lao / Hmong stunt man and actor
As a young child, Toom Chanda’s mother became separated from her parents during the turmoil that occurred after the Laotian Civil war ended in 1975.  More than two decades would pass before she could be reunited with her family in Wisconsin. Toom was born in Laos and immigrated to the United States as a child. He took an interest in martial arts at a young age and by his early 20’s was the owner of several Wisconsin Muay Thai gyms.  He would use his martial arts skills to kick start a Hollywood career by working as a stunt man and extra before going to found his own film production company.  It wasn’t all bright lights and red carpets for Toom. John and Ko as they talk to Toom about navigating through Lao, Hmong and American culture as a child as well as the success and disappointment that comes with pursuing an acting and filmmaking career.  Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
February 22, 2022
Lo Van Pham: NCAA D1 football official born in Pakse, Laos
After the 1975 fall of governments in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia many of the resulting refugees found themselves living in the American heartland. The meatpacking industry, in particular, offered an attractive start for these new Americans with its relatively high paying jobs that didn’t require English fluency. Lo Van Pham was born in Pakse, Laos, but grew up in the Eastridge section of Amarillo, Texas, a neighborhood where a large community of Lao and Vietnamese refugees sprung up in the shadow of a massive IBP cattle processing facility. Lo played football at Palo Duro High School before heading off to Colorado for college. While Lo’s playing career came to an end he felt himself called back to the sport that he loves as an official. He started out at the peewee level before stepping onto the field in front of some of America’s most passionate fans under the Friday night lights of West Texas football.  Lo continued to move up the officiating ranks working Mountain West, Big Twelve and college bowl games across the country. In 2018 he was one of 39 people selected to join the NFL’s officiating development program. Join us as we talk to Lo about his journey from refugee to one of football’s top officials. Music: Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
February 15, 2022
Billy Soksoda: Rodeo cowboy originally from Laos
Billy Soksoda was born outside of Vientiane, Laos, around the time of the communist takeover. At the age of three, he fled the country with his mother and they re-settled in the United States as refugees. The family found themselves living in a tough Sacramento neighborhood, so Billy’s mom decided to move the family to Redding, a small city in California’s rural north. It was in Redding that Billy would be introduced to a popular local sport that would change his life, Rodeo. The first time he climbed on the back of a raging bull he was hooked. Billy would compete in rodeos throughout the west, racking up titles and accolades as he road with the PBR, PCRA and California Cowboys. Bull riding is just one part of Billy’s amazing story so join us as we talk to this Cowboy, Muay Thai fighter, entrepreneur, coach, family man and soon-to-be Dr. Soksoda.
February 09, 2022
K.P. and Scott Phaydavong; First Lao pro football player
Scott Phaydavong was born in Des Moines, Iowa, to parents who had recently immigrated from Laos as refugees after the civil war.  Scott played running back at Des Moines East High school and went on to rush for over 5,000 yards at Drake University.  He became the first known Lao-American to play professionally when in 2009 he signed with the German Football League’s Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns. While Scott’s football stats are impressive, he’s quick to give credit to his older brothers who broke down the cultural barriers in the Phaydavong house so that he could pursue his passion. In addition to Scott, we’ll be talking to his brother, Army veteran and personal trainer, K.P. Phaydavong. Scott remains active in football is currently an assistant coach with the 2021 Iowa High School State champion Southeast Polk Rams.   Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
February 04, 2022
Kris Dim: Cambodian bodybuilder. Khmer Rouge survivor.
Kris Dim was born in Cambodia in 1973, shortly before the Khmer Rouge upended life in that country.  Between 1975 and 1979 it's estimated that up to 3 million people died in what became known as the Cambodian Genocide.  After fleeing the country with his family and resettling in the United States, Kris took up bodybuilding as a teenager in Sacramento, California.  In 2003 he earned his IFBB pro card by winning the NPC Nationals light-heavyweight championship. In 2007 Kris suffered a heart condition that nearly took his life about a month after his 34th birthday.  Kris would continue to battle health issues and against the advice of many, he continued competing in the sport that he loves. After suffering a spinal cord inquiry Kris transitioned to the wheelchair division.  Through all his struggles Kris maintains a positive outlook on life and his amazing story needs to be heard.  Music: Summer 1984 -RKVC
January 31, 2022
Ko Chandetka & John Messina, SEA4: Southeast Asian Athlete Achievement > Adversity.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam war, the secret war in Laos, and the Cambodian genocide a wave of Southeast Asian refugees fled their homelands. They began arriving in the United States during 1975 and continued into the 1980s. While the first group was evacuated by the U.S. military most partook in a harrowing escape and transitioned through refugee camps in other Asian countries such as Thailand, Hong Kong, or the Philippines before being connected with a sponsor for resettlement. This diverse group of refugees was scattered across all fifty states. From large coastal cities to small Midwestern towns, everyone had a different resettlement experience. Upon arrival, some were welcomed by helpful sponsors while others were left to fend for themselves in some of America’s toughest neighborhoods. Facing language barriers, culture shock, xenophobia, and haunting memories from their past many struggled to adapt and survive.  Cultural and generational struggles between adults and their more Americanized children were common. Despite these challenges, many went on to achieve great things and over time became ingrained in the fabric of their communities. The unique stories and experiences of the Southeast Asian refugees are often overshadowed by that of the larger Asian American community. This podcast aims to bring these amazing stories into the mainstream by focusing on athletes and other individuals who faced and overcame adversity. Triumphs and tragedies, join us for these inspiring stories.
November 24, 2021