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Author Topic: Article about U of MN vaulter Andrea Smith  (Read 4146 times)
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« on: June 08, 2005, 07:41:50 am »


Track: Privilege, not pressure for Gophers
Michael Rand,  Star Tribune
June 8, 2005
Gophers freshman pole vaulter Andrea Smith, who will compete in the NCAA Championships that run today through Saturday in Sacramento, Calif., had her first taste of competitive pressure as a sophomore from Bemidji at the state high school meet.

"The pole vault started, and the girls were freaking out," Smith said. "I was calm, and I was thinking, 'Why are they doing this to themselves?' "

Pole vaulting, Smith could plainly reason, is not a life-or-death situation. Smith, 19, knew it because she has seen a real life-or-death struggle -- the one her older brother, Brad, has endured since he was born. An autoimmune disorder and a rare form of diabetes are among his ailments. He also needs a new pancreas, though two transplant attempts have failed. A battle over insurance is the next step before doctors can attempt a third procedure.

Brad wasn't supposed to live past 8, but now he's 22. Smith's vaulting career and Brad's medical history have forged a symbiotic relationship over the years: Both siblings give each other a reason to keep fighting.

The Smith house is actually 25 miles north of Bemidji in northwest Minnesota, which Andrea confirms is "the middle of nowhere." She loves the life: camping, fishing and especially hunting, with a 10-point buck to her credit. It doesn't quite sound like a background made for pole vaulting, but Smith was drawn to it as a freshman.

"There's a certain point where you fall in love with it," Smith said.

She ended up winning a state championship as a sophomore, but by clearing only 11 feet with her winning vault, Smith said she "felt like she was cheating." Smith repeated as champion as a junior (11-6) and set a state meet record at 12-7 ? in winning as a senior.

The Gophers liked her talent and her character.

"We had a good connection with her," said Gophers assistant Matt Bingle, who recruited Smith. "She's a blue-collar kid, and she has responded to the competition."

As Smith has excelled, Brad has been one of her biggest fans. He was hospitalized after his first transplant failed. It was Andrea's junior year in high school and the state meet was approaching. His doctor recommended otherwise, but Brad was determined to see her compete. When Smith's father, Terry, wheeled Brad into the stadium just before she was going to compete, it was a moment Andrea won't forget.

"He said, 'You'd better win because I got out of the hospital just to watch you,' " Smith said. "I didn't even care about the meet at that point. I was just glad he was there. It was probably the first time I saw it from the standpoint that I was lucky. He put things in perspective for me."

Smith spent part of this past fall shuttling between the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, as Brad awaited a second transplant. She was there when Brad found out it had failed.

"I've never seen anyone cry so hard," Smith said. "My dad and I were in the corner of the room, and we couldn't help but cry. It was so awful."

Smith is emphatic about one point: She does not want sympathy. While she wishes her brother didn't have to struggle for survival, she also feels it has made her family closer -- and given her a unique outlook on her chosen sport.

She will bring that outlook into the NCAA meet, with her mom and grandmother (JoAnne and Sharon) expected to attend. She is not favored to win, nor does she have a specific height she would like to clear. But Smith can guarantee she will try her hardest.

"My parents always say, 'If you could put Brad's heart into someone who could play sports, there would be no stopping that person,' " Smith said. "That's always served as a huge motivation. When I think, 'I don't want to lift weights today,' I pause and think, 'At least I can.' "

Chris Milton
Eden Prairie HS PV Coach
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