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Kevin Schnepf, Published July 31 2012

Schnepf: Missy Franklin's coach has North Dakota ties

Like so many other Americans, Ann Schmitz of north Fargo knew the outcome before she started watching Monday night’s telecast of the Summer Olympics.

“I knew the results, yet there I was jumping up and down going crazy in the middle of my living room,” Schmitz said.

She was watching 17-year-old swimming phenom Missy Franklin claim a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke in an Olympic-record time of 59.12 seconds. Schmitz has always been a swimmer and even an official at high school and college meets.

But Franklin’s performance had a much deeper meaning for Schmitz. Her son, Todd Schmitz, has been Franklin’s coach for the past 10 years. The Bismarck native has made quite the name for himself not only as Franklin’s coach, but as the coach of the Colorado Stars swim club in suburban Denver.

For Ann, it has been quite a ride since attending last month’s Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., and now watching her son on TV as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s swim team.

“I’ve been swimming so much mentally and physically, I’m not getting anything done,” said Ann, who at the age of 62 still finds time to swim a few laps.

She also found time to frame a Wall Street Journal story focused on Franklin and her son. Entitled “How Not to Ruin a Sure Thing,” the story explains how the 33-year-old Todd Schmitz employed an unusual approach, emphasizing the need to avoid burnout rather than pushing his athletes to their physical limits. A lot of rest and play.

It’s a big reason Franklin’s parents refrained from sending their daughter to an elite program. “Why would we?” Dick Franklin was quoted as saying. “We have a kid who is happy and who keeps swimming faster.”

In the story, Todd Schmitz is quick to mention his good fortune of having a world champion on his club team: “The train was going by, I jumped on and I’m enjoying the ride,” he was quoted as saying.

The ride began when an 18-month-old Todd started swimming in the Schmitz’s backyard pool in Bismarck. As a 6-year-old, he set a 500-meter freestyle record that still stands at the Bismarck YMCA.

Schmitz went on to become a five-time All-American swimmer at Metropolitan College in Denver. His sister, Kara Schmitz-Olson, who is an assistant Cass County state’s attorney in Fargo, set a backstroke record swimming at the University of Iowa.

More than five years ago, Schmitz gave up his job with a national restaurant chain to become a full-time coach for the Colorado Stars – a club that is forced to rent pool time at five Denver-area facilities. Schmitz lugs all the equipment around in the bed of his GMC Sierra pickup – a vehicle he purchased at Lunde Ford in Fargo.

“He’s done awesome,” said Jeff Steele, who swam with Schmitz on the Bismarck Golden Seals club team.

Steele, now the coach for the West Fargo Flyers club team and the Fargo Davies High School girls swim team, did not know the results when he watched Franklin win gold Monday night.

“His brother (Brad) called me right after the race and said, ‘Can you believe what just happened?’ ” Steele said. “I’ve never met Missy, but you can feel that connection she has with Todd when you see her interviewed. It’s surreal.”

And for Ann Schmitz, it’s surreal when she sees her son on television. She even caught a quick glimpse of her daughter Kara, who has been in London to support her brother.

Ann remembers seven years ago when Todd called to tell her about Franklin: “Todd said, ‘I’ve got a little swimmer here who is going to be pretty damn good.’ He knew then she would develop into something.”

And so has Todd. Two filmmakers from Los Angeles started following Todd and Franklin two years ago to produce a documentary about the making of a champion, from beginning to end.

“I keep joking with Todd that we’re going to have to buy him a T-shirt that says: ‘I’m kind of a big deal,’ ” Ann said. “And when you think about it, he is.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com