OAKLAND -- Thirteen years after they arrived in the United States on an old sailing boat from the Caribbean, Swedish extreme adventurers Thomas and Tina Sjogren were among 1,200 people from 96 nations to become U.S. citizens Wednesday during a naturalization ceremony at the Paramount Theatre.
"I am realizing my family's dream," said Tina Sjogren, 53, who was born in Communist Czechoslovakia and fled with her mother to Sweden when she was 9. She said that the U.S. was the first country she chose for herself and that the ceremony felt like a second marriage.
When they arrived in New York in 1999 it felt like coming home, said Thomas Sjogren, 53, whose grandfather had tried to immigrate to the United States in 1914 but wasn't granted permission by the King of Sweden that was needed at the time.
"We came here to stay," Tina said.
The Sjogrens met in Stockholm and were married in 1983. He was a Swedish junior sailing champion, figure skater and skier, and she was an ardent traveler. They combined their interests to become extreme adventurers. Once married, they went to Russia and China on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In 1999, they became the second married couple to climb Mount Everest. In 2001 and 2002, they trekked both to the North and South Pole, where they skied and sometimes even swam.
They had always experimented with remote communications equipment on their journeys, having been the first moving expedition to send live dispatches from the polar regions, so they founded the website www.explorersweb.com that not only provides news about expeditions but also technical advice. After spending three years in the Colorado Mountains, the couple bought an old shiny airstream trailer and moved to the Bay Area, settling in Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay.
"We had heard that there was this gold rush in Silicon Valley," Tina said.
They teamed with web developers and created an app called Pythom that will combine reports of extreme traveling and an online store for extreme gear. "The guys who are doing the best tents for specific expeditions are in Portugal, but very few travelers might know," said Thomas, who is flying to Alaska next week to provide technical equipment for a new documentary on Discovery Channel.
The Sjogrens want to share this kind of knowledge on their platform.
"This is the democratization of the marketplace," Thomas said. "Now I am talking Silicon Valley," he adds with a laugh.
During the naturalization ceremony the couple was picked by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to recite the Pledge the Allegiance on stage in front of hundreds of other new citizens.
"It was an amazing, amazing honor," Thomas said.
Now that they have realized their life dream of becoming American citizens they are now focusing on their next expedition.
"We wanna go to space," Tina said. "Honey, we need money for that," Thomas cautioned.
For now, the Sjogrens are looking for investors to grow their startup Pythom that has already been released in a beta version -- and get rich. "We need to do this quick," Thomas said. "We need to go to Mars while we still can walk."