Identical twin sisters Sarabeth and Samantha Baglin are about to journey back to a distant homeland they can't remember.
Adopted by a Maryland couple as infants, the 16-year-old Perry Hall High School seniors and track members are set to run the 100-meter dash and other track events at the Korean National Olympics in Seoul next month -- an honor they won during a qualifying meet against other Korean-Americans in Los Angeles last summer.
But with less than two weeks to their Oct. 9 departure date, the Baglin sisters are getting nervous, and not just about the race. They're about to get a dose of Korean culture they've never experienced before.
"We've tasted Korean food before, but we like the rice best of all," said Samantha Baglin during practice on a bright, breezy afternoon last week at Perry Hall High's track.
The twins' mother, Carol Ann Baglin, says she is anxious about her daughters traveling such a great distance without her, but she's sure they will manage, despite the cultural differences.
It's not as if Samantha and Sarabeth haven't been away from home. Accomplished musicians -- Samantha plays the cello; Sarabeth, the viola -- they traveled with the Maryland Youth Symphony on a tour of Europe two summers ago.
"They are fearless," said Baglin, who also has an 11-year-old son. "They are about to go off to Korea all by themselves, and when I asked them if they were worried they say, 'No, we'll be fine.' They are just so excited about it."
Although they are gifted athletes and musicians, the twins don't boast about their talents. Except for a close-knit group of friends at Perry Hall High, most students don't know about the trip to Korea, or the girls' hopes of becoming professional musicians.
"They're very competitive but
they're quiet about it and they never brag," said Perry Hall High orchestra director Kevin Bartram. "They aren't even aware of their gift."
Samantha and Sarabeth seem as laid back as many teen-agers. At a recent track practice, they showed up in baggy T-shirts and shorts, their hair tied up in pony tails. The twins giggled and gave each other friendly shoves under an autumn sky that promised a cool and cloudless night.
Not that the Baglins had much time to enjoy the night. They spend most evenings hovered over their homework. They take the same classes together, including orchestra.
The girls' musical talents have taken them to Carnegie Hall in New York City and the governor's mansion in Annapolis.
They became interested in string instruments when they were 5 years old, after they saw Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman perform on "Sesame Street," Baglin said. "It was very sweet. I've never had to ask them to practice."
The sisters hope to study music performance at college and pursue jobs with major metropolitan symphony orchestras. "They have the ability to make it," said Bartram. "And that is rare. Maybe one in 10,000 can do that. They are just two wonderful kids."
The Baglins' talent might win them accolades in Korea, where they could attract major media attention, said their private track coach Chang Yi of Sparks, a tae kwon do martial arts expert who competed in the Korean National Olympics about a decade ago. "Because they are American, and the U.S. is known for its excellent athletes, and because they are identical twins, there will be pressure to do well," Yi said.
To prepare them, Yi is pushing Samantha and Sarabeth to do sprints -- jumping high into the air, pumping their arms for greater power and stretching their legs to expand their strides. Both run a swift 13.5-second 100-meter race -- a competitive time for high school athletes, Yi said.
Besides the 100-meter dash, they will compete in the 400-meter relay and high jump events.
The girls have always been runners, their mother said. When they were young, they created hurdles out of lawn furniture and pots, she said.
"That's how they got into track,"
Baglin said. "They've always been very active kids, not hyper-active but focus-active, that's just their personality."
The twins, who learned about the Korean American Olympic Festival from their Korean friends at Perry Hall High School, attended the games in Los Angeles in July. At the competition, which attracts thousands of Korean athletes, the girls each earned a gold medal in the 400-meter relay race. Samantha also won gold medals in the 100-meter dash and the long jump. Sarabeth clinched a bronze in the long jump.
Their performances in Los Angeles earned the sisters a trip to the Korean National Olympics with about 10 other Korean-American athletes from Maryland. They will travel as guests of the Korean Amateur Athletic Association of Maryland, a nonprofit organization of which Yi is a member. Thousands of qualifying Koreans from around the world are expected to compete. Yi met Samantha and Sarabeth through the group and became their private coach.
When Yi is not running the twins around the track at Perry Hall, he's been teaching them about their Korean birthplace.
"Before we went to Los Angeles, I took them to a Korean restaurant but they didn't like it," said Yi, who showed them a Korean-language newspaper at a recent practice.
The twins can't read or speak Korean, except for a couple of words and simple phrases. "We know stuff like, 'hello' and 'where is the bathroom,'" said Sarabeth, laughing.
Said Yi of the twins' visit to Korea: "It will be a different world for them."