DeKALB – Northern Illinois University distance runner Hope Schmelzle is in the middle of a wild month.
On Saturday, she achieved the coveted status of first team All-American by taking sixth place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Championships at iconic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Her finish qualified her for the prelims of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships set to take place June 22 in Sacramento, California.
Then, two days later, she’s getting married.
“I know, believe me, everybody’s been like, ‘You’re insane,’ ” Schmelzle said of the hectic schedule and running a major race so close to the wedding. “You have to do it. The opportunity – you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You only regret the things you don’t do, right? I have so much support at home that I feel OK letting them handle things on the home front [preparing for the wedding].”
After setting the NIU record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:50.51 to give her the top mark in the 24-runner prelims Thursday, she ran the finals in 9.55:49 to take sixth and become the Huskies’ first women’s track and field All-American in school history.
Schmelzle said it has been hectic to simultaneously train for the biggest race of her career and plan for her June 24 wedding in Wheaton – she’s still tinkering with the seating chart – but credits the support around her.
Schmelzle’s fiancé, Sam Hoffman, was a distance runner at Purdue, and the two regularly train together – going on long runs and talking about wedding plans. For Northern Illinois distance coach Adrian Myers, it was a major emphasis to stay flexible while his star runner planned two major life events.
“On weekends, we’d have organized runs and practice and allowed her the flexibility of, if she’s going to be gone all day cake tasting and all these things, she’d ask [to just run on her own later, and I’d say, ‘absolutely,’ ” said Myers, who came to NIU in April 2015. “I knew she’d get it done. I don’t need to hold her hand. She’s a senior and getting married. I can reasonably expect you’ll go and do your run on your own and check in with me when you’re done.”
The couple originally met and started dating when the two were both distance runners for rival high schools – Schmelzle was at Wheaton Warrenville South, while Hoffman was at Wheaton North – before they both went to Purdue. Shortly after they became engaged when Hoffman proposed while the two were on a run in New York City, Schmelzle returned to her home state and transferred to Northern Illinois University, which had recently hired Myers from Purdue to be the women’s cross country and assistant track and field coach, in January 2016.
“At that point, I wanted to be closer to home and his training philosophy and his take on running, I’ve always looked up to and valued,” Schmelzle said of Myers. “I knew, if given the opportunity, our personalities would mesh. Coming in, it’s been that and more so. We’ve really learned how to work with each other and I’m so thankful he’s my coach.”
Schmelzle said that while her tenure at Northern Illinois was brief – she came to DeKalb for two track and field seasons and one cross country campaign – the feeling she got of taking sixth place on the big stage in a Huskie uniform gave her some hometown pride because of the overwhelming support she received.
The medal and trophy she got for her finish at the NCAA Championships isn’t displayed quite yet, with boxes filling her Wheaton residence for when she and Hoffman move to Sycamore after the wedding. She’s watched the finals race only once – viewing it in a combination of analyzing the race and the surreal experience of watching herself on ESPN.
“One of my family members recorded it on TV so she was like, ‘We got to watch it,’ “ Schmelzle said. “I think it’s important to watch it and say, ‘Wow, look at the stage we’re on.’ But also, I remember watching it and thinking, ‘Oh, there’s where that move happened. If I could have been on the outside at that moment, I could have shifted up.’ It’s kind of a combo.”
If Schmelzle advances in the prelims at the USATF Outdoor Championships, the final will be on June 24 – her wedding day. She’s quick to say that if that happens, walking down the aisle will trump running down the straightaway.
“I obviously can’t do that, there’s no way – getting married is a priority,” Schmelzle said. “As cheesy as it sounds, [Hoffman’s] helped me get to this point. I hope he feels that he was a part of that trophy. Yeah, it says whatever, female NCAA, whatever. He should feel he was a part of it as well because it really was a team thing – him, my teammates, my coaches, my family, everybody is a part of that.”