November 20, 2003 at 2:21 p.m.
“I was in middle school and everyone tried everything so I threw a little bit with 50 other middle schoolers,” smiled Schmidt. Right away, I threw it farther than the guys and I started getting more and more interested in it because I was good at it. From there, everything just took off. It wasn’t intentional at all, it was really just an accident.”
It turned out to be one of the biggest accidents of Schmidt’s life, an accident that she has turned into a way of life. An accident that has given her a Division One scholarship, with of all schools, the University of Minnesota. The Chisago Lakes senior made it official on November 12, signing a national letter of intent on the first day of the early signing period, becoming the sixth Chisago Lakes graduate to move to Division One and the first headed to the U of M. It’s official, Schmidt is not only going to throw in college, she’s going to do wearing a Gopher uniform.
“Everyone who grows up in Minnesota wants to be a Gopher,” mentioned Schmidt. “I’m kind of relieved that it’s finally done, I don’t have to talk to recruiters anymore. I’m also kind of nervous, I really have to start working now, the fun is over. I have to show them what I got.”
I think they already know. As a matter of fact, it seems everyone in the country knew about the hometown product. The recruiting letters have been piling up since her sophomore season, not to mention the phone calls.
“It was a huge relief to finally get it over with, especially over the summer, every night there was a call and I was so tired. We have all of my letters in three grocery bags, they are all in binders,” smiled Schmidt. “There is just so many. I think last year we counted about 30 D-I schools and 70 D-II schools. They are from all over, some didn’t even spell my name right.”
“That’s the outstanding thing is that she’ll be going to the U of M and we’ll all have that close contact with her,” said Perry Aadland, Chisago Lakes Activities Director. “It puts Chisago Lakes on the map.”
In the end, Schmidt’s choice came down to three, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Ohio State, not a bad list. The Gophers were always in the lead, but they wrapped her up the night they added a little more to the table.
“The day they said they would give me a full ride is the day I decided the U was it,” remarked Schmidt. “Honestly, I didn’t think they could do it. They have a lot of good throwers already and I didn’t think they had the budget. When they said it, I didn’t believe them at first. After that I was positive.”
To list all of the schools vying for Schmidt would like listing all of her accomplishments at Chisago Lakes- it would be impossible. Schmidt has made a habit of setting herself apart. From finishing second in the shot put at the state tournament the last two years to holding the school’s girls basketball all-time scoring record (this winter she will become the school’s all-time leading scorer). Throw in volleyball and Schmidt has been named all-state in three different sports! Ironically, despite her exploits on the court and on the track, her athletic career actually got started on the mat.
“Her height has helped her a lot through the years,” said Nancy Schmidt, Kari’s mom. “We’re are all tall so we started our kids in gymnastics early, when they were like three years old, and I think it really helped her develop coordination, making her aware of her body. From there, it’s just taken off.”
Gymnastics might be one key to the formula but everyone agree, Schmidt has always had a little something more. Everyone has there own opinion on what it is.
“She’s very competitive,” mentioned Nancy Schmidt. “All she needs is someone to say that they can do it better or faster than she can. She’ll force herself to beat them.”
“She’s very determined in what she wants to do and what she wants to become,” added Beth Carlson, Chisago Lakes girls track coach and former University of Minnesota track star. “She’s focused on her future. She’s always focusing on her goals and reaching them. I wish I could say that there is more out there like her but she is one of a kind.”
Leaving Basketball Behind
Schmidt has already started to mentally prepare for several things; life on campus, life in the Big Ten, and life without basketball.
Track may be her love now but up until two years ago, basketball was it. She lived it, breathed it play it.....and was good at it. As a matter of fact, Schmidt had several offers to play college basketball as well before deciding to stick with track.
“You can try to do two sports but your body can only be trained for one,” said Schmidt. “I thought about playing both (in college) a lot. There were a couple D-II schools that talked to me like it was a privilege but I think it’s a downfall because I’d rather be really good at basketball or really good at track. I chose track because it was D-I.”
Track over basketball? The transformation began her sophomore year when Schmidt, then a sophomore, placed second at state in the shot put. The next season, second again. The more successful she became, the more her love for track grew.
‘That feeling of truly being recognized, that was the best feeling I’ve ever had. To work hard and be successful,” mentioned Schmidt. “I still love basketball. It’s going to be really hard going to the Gopher games and watching but I think it all changed my junior year. I’d say it was more personal growth than anything else.”
Needless to say, the parents never saw it coming.
“You better believe we were surprised,” laughed Nancy Schmidt when talking about Kari’s switch from basketball to track. “She’s been playing basketball since first grade. Jim (Kari’s dad) coached her all the way through junior high and then she moved up to varsity as an eighth grader. It’s been such a big part of her life. It was really interesting to see that transition.
“Playing basketball is subjective, whereas track is objective,” continued Nancy Schmidt. “You throw and that’s what you get. I think she liked not having to worry about all of the other things. She just had to worry about her individual performance and that was it.”
“I’ve always been in team sports, this is the first individual sport I’ve been in,” remarked Kari Schmidt. “Individually, just being responsible for failures and successes is huge, I had never felt that before. I love it.”
The Next Level
If there is anyone who knows what to expect, it’s Beth Carlson. The first year head coach at Chisago is a former All-American and Big 10 Champion in the hammer throw. She is convinced Schmidt has the ability to do the same.
“They (University of Minnesota) have already told me that they see her as more of a hammer thrower than a shot put or discus,” said Carlson. “Kari’s monkeyed around a little bit with the hammer and she enjoys it. She has already starting working for next year. She’s always asking me questions about stuff, just trying to get better. We want to make sure she’s confident going down there and not intimidated.”
“A lot of throwing is weight training,” said Schmidt. “I want to go in there strong, I really want to have a good start. My expectations are just to go in there and be with everyone else, not being the bottom rung on the ladder.”
That shouldn’t be a problem. Instead, don’t be surprised if Schmidt climbs to the top in record time. After all, some people just belong there.
“I am ecstatic that she’s gone as far as she has. With her ability and her competitive drive, she’ll just keep moving on,” said Nancy Schmidt. “She’s already said that she’s going to be in the 2008 Olympics and I think she’s going to do it. If she says she’s going to do something, I believe her.”
So do we.