Jeff Kolpack, Published July 21 2012
NDSU's Smock uses father's death as motivation to achieve Olympic dream
In one respect, she’s been training for the Olympic Games since she was a little kid. A prized photo in her home in Melrose, Minn., is of a 4-year-old Amanda in a U.S. gymnastics uniform when she wanted to be the next Mary Lou Retton.
On the living room wall, next to the fireplace, is a portrait photo of 17-year-old Amanda wearing a U.S. letterman’s jacket. Subtle signs, but foreshadowing signs nonetheless.
Once a wide-eyed freshman on the North Dakota State track and field team who showed some potential for doing well at the Division II level, she’s now in London preparing for the triple jump competition. And in a thought that has kept her smiling for months, the world is throwing her one heck of a birthday party on Friday night.
She turns 30 on the day of the opening ceremonies in London.
“To be marching in Olympic Stadium on my 30th birthday is just the coolest thing I could imagine,” Smock said.
Her life has been one cool thing after another, with one exception: the death of her father, Glen Thieschafer, two years ago at the age of 52.
The story is well-documented. After failing to qualify for the Olympics in the 2008 U.S. Track and Field Trials, Glen scribbled “2012” over his credential when the two returned to Minnesota. Rare was the day when she didn’t look at it.
The photo of Glen, which had a washed-out look to it, was with her in the 2012 trials when she punched her ticket to London.
“It had all this white, all this aura to the photo,” said Beth Thieschafer, Amanda’s mother. “She said, ‘I think it makes him look like an angel.’ She was very close to her father and I know there were times that if she didn’t feel like going to work out, she would look at that thing and it gave her motivation.
“Face it; it’s tough to practice alone every day.”
Since making the Olympic team, Amanda hasn’t had much alone time. Interviews came at the rate of two to three a day. And why not?
It’s the story of an American dream. She took the baton of determination from her father – his personality, according to those closest to him – and ran with it. She has her master’s and doctorate degrees.
“I’ve never seen her get nervous in any circumstance,” said Greg Smock, Amanda’s husband and also a former Bison track athlete. “She has a weird personality. I get nervous at work sometimes, let alone world competition. She’s always able to keep things in perspective. There’s not ever a feeling that she’s getting stressed out, or at least showing that.”
Amanda admits there was a brief letdown after the U.S.
Trials. Responsibilities, mostly media requests, were plentiful.
“It lasted about a second, where I felt a little bit overwhelmed” she said. “But I was quick to acknowledge it was a positive thing. From that moment forward, I was able to embrace it.”
Now living in Minneapolis, Amanda embraces the messages she receives from former teammates and NDSU fans, mostly on Twitter and Facebook posts. She’s heard from people across the state.
“I’m blessed and honored to have that support,” Amanda said.
She’s the fifth NDSU athlete to make an Olympic team and the first in track and field.
She met Greg on the track at the NDSU Ellig Sports Complex; she, a Division II champion in the triple jump, and he, once part of the school record in the 3,200 relay, which came during a 2002 Drake Relays title. It still ranks second on the NDSU all-time performance list.
“I think it was on some of those long bus trips that we talked more and eventually connected,” Greg said. “It just happened over time.”
Twelve years later, time has taken her to London.
“It’s fun to have a happy ending,” Beth said, “and yet it’s bittersweet because I know how wonderful it would have been to share that with her dad. But I know he is watching.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia. Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.