Proud aunts

I’ve written before about the pride we aunts take in our nieces and nephews, and the 10 days I spent in Oregon at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials brought out a number of proud aunts to cheer on their family’s elite athletes. Today, I’ll share three “good aunt” stories with you from the competition.

Proud aunts follow through on a father’s inspiration
Early into the trials, I saw an article in the The Register-Guard talking about Amanda Smock, an expert in the women’s triple jump. She competed in the 2008 trials, but finished 5th and didn’t get to go to the Olympics that year.

After those trials, her father encouraged her to keep pursuing her dream, though he didn’t live to see her succeed. He died from cancer a year later, but four of Smock’s aunts (her father’s sisters) made the long drive from Minnesota to the trials to surprise her and cheer her on.

Smock finished first in the trials, and because of qualifying requirements to compete in the Olympics, she’ll be the only athlete to represent the United States in her event. Of winning and what it meant to have her four aunts watching from the stands, she said:

I have a pretty strong spiritual faith, so I know he was with me here
today. Four of his sisters drove out here, 27 hours (from Minnesota),
to be with me here today. They surprised me. And just seeing them,
they all know how proud my dad would be, and is, of me. And that’s
what really gets at me right now, and is really emotional. This is all
because of him. He has instilled these thoughts in me that I could do
this since I was 3 years old. It’s just so cool to know he’s behind this
all. (Source: The Register-Guard, 6/26/12, D4.)

Can I get an amen? Anyone who will drive for 27 hours to cheer on a niece and watch her accomplish a lifetime dream is a hero in my book. But then, if it were your niece, wouldn’t you do the same?

Loud and proud

A loud and proud cheering section for heptathlete Abbie Stechschulte

A few days later in the trials, I noticed a group of fans sitting a few sections to the right of me wearing “loud” orange t-shirts. It was a gathering of family and friends to cheer on heptathlete Abbie Stechschulte. The Register-Guard noticed the cheering section, too, and reported that 28 fans had come from her hometown in Ohio to cheer her on. What I especially loved were the backs of the shirts, printed with that person’s relationship to Stechschulte. It just so happened that “AUNT” was one of the first ones I saw:

One of Abbie Stechschulte’s proud aunts

Two aunts and a sister from a distance

Uncle, Dad and perhaps Papaw?

Stechschulte came in 6th place, but her cheering section was first-rate. And I’m sure they were proud of her performance, even though she didn’t make the Olympic team. She told a reporter that she plans to start a family next, and what a lucky child that will be to be born into such a supportive family.

No pressure, but I already have my ticket to London
My favorite proud aunt story of the trials came from the women’s steeplechase. Bridget Franek had yet to race the time she needed to get the ‘A’ qualifier for the Olympics (a time of 9:46.00), and the final at the trials would be her last chance to make the team. So not only did she need to finish in one of the top three spots, she had to come in at least as fast as 9:46.00. To add to the pressure, her aunt had already bought a plane ticket to London to see Franek compete in the Olympics.

Franek (r) with one lap to go in the steeplechase

Well, Franek didn’t disappoint. She finished second in 9:35.62, earning her ‘A’ qualifier and justifying her aunt’s faith in her. And now they’re both headed to London.

Are you a proud aunt? Or uncle?
Is there someone on your family tree that you’re especially proud of? Maybe not an athlete headed to the Olympics, but there are lots of accomplishments of which families can be proud. I’d love to hear your stories.

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