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Jeff Kolpack, Published July 21 2012

Smock is latest athlete from Melrose to make it big

MELROSE, Minn. – The drive from Fargo to the Twin Cities runs right through Melrose. To the north of Interstate 94 is the heart of a vibrant city of 3,600 residents.

There are no apparent empty store fronts. People seem happy. There’s a sense of humbleness because if the town wanted to, it could advertise its rich athletic past.

It produced an NBA player in Mark Olberding, an NFL player in Matt Herkenhoff and a European women’s professional basketball player in Jan Niehaus. It now has a U.S. Olympian.

Amanda Smock’s USA uniform will hang on the wall of the Melrose High School gymnasium forever. Before becoming a standout track and field performer at North Dakota State University, she was a multisport athlete at Melrose, getting state acclaim in gymnastics and track.

“For me to have my roots in a small town means more and more as time goes on,” said Smock, now 29. “To instantly have the population of Melrose all behind me is cool. I feel like if I grew up in Minneapolis, I would get lost in the shuffle.”

Her athletic shuffle probably began in second grade when her parents, Glen and Beth Thieschafer, took her to a gymnastics meet. Well, they almost made it.

She sat on the foot of her bed in the morning, looked at her mom, and told her she didn’t think she could do it. She had a stomach ache to prove it.

“I said, ‘You know what? That’s OK. For today, how about if we just walk in, that’s all,’ ” Beth said. “And that’s exactly what we did.”

In the next meet, Beth suggested Amanda just do the vault because it’s fast and it gets over in a hurry. Nobody will hardly notice, Beth told Amanda.

“It was a very slow introduction to sports,” Beth said.

The introduction, gymnastics, was a natural – Glen and Beth were the high school coaches at Melrose for many years. They won two state titles.

Both parents grew up with sports backgrounds. Glen was a standout sprinter and pole vaulter in high school. Beth competed in gymnastics at Minnesota State Mankato.

“What comes to mind is the family, that family was always there,” said Herman Lensing, who writes for the Melrose Beacon newspaper. “I know Amanda is still very aware of her connection to Melrose.”

She rode in the town’s “River Fest Days” parade a week before leaving for Europe to train for the London Games. She signed autographs and mingled with the people.

“She thought it was a great idea but then she thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what if no one comes?’ ” Beth said. “I said, ‘Amanda, everybody I know wants to talk to you.’ ”

The line had a 30-minute wait.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546