published Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Whatever happened to ... Catching up with 'Girl Who Spelled Freedom'

Question: Whatever happened to Cambodian labor camp survivor and local spelling bee champion Linn Yann?

Answer: Since 1983, when the young Cambodian refugee shocked Chattanooga and the nation by nearly winning the National Spelling Bee just four years after learning her first word of English, Linn Yann has grown up and built a successful career in pharmaceutical sales.

Now 42, Linn Yann Carroll lives with her husband and 2-year-old daughter in South Carolina. She worked in broadcast journalism for many years, but 13 years ago she wanted a change, said her sister, Yieng Yann, 44.

Often, Linn comes home to Chattanooga where she is famous for her teenage success and also a Disney TV movie, "The Girl Who Spelled Freedom," which was made about her life and shown in 1986.

"People still see her as well known," Yieng Yann said.

Life in America has been a far cry from what Linn and her siblings experienced in their early years. In Cambodian labor camps, the children were kept separate from their family, forced to dig ditches, plant rice fields and build roads from before sunrise to sunset.

They ate roots and berries to survive. When the Vietnamese took over the camp, her family and others trekked to Thailand, where American aid workers rescued them and brought them to Chattanooga.

Their mother still lives in Hixson, in the first home the family owned after escaping the camps in Cambodia, where Yann's father died. And several of Linn's five siblings still live in Chattanooga. One brother works in commercial real estate and owns a CrossFit gym. Another works in the steel business. She has a sister who is a church educator and another who works in finance.

"The drive to better ourselves was what got us to where we are now," said Yieng Yann.

This update was written by staff writer Joan Garrett McClane. Contact her at jmcclane@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.

To suggest a topic for Whatever Happened To, email news@timesfreepress.com.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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