Thursday, February 4, 2010

Onward Cindy!

When people are asked to describe Cindy Brochman there are invariably a number of responses: a laugh, a quizzical ‘Hmm…. how do you describe Cindy?’ Then, inevitably, people will begin to share their memories of Brochman.

Often the stories are about the experience of knowing Brochman – laughing with her at a road race start line or seeing her cheering somewhere along the course – rather than stories of Brochman’s many athletic achievements. Although there are many such success stories, people who knew Brochman know she was as much about the experience of being an athlete as she was a competitor.

Brochman, 44, of Maplewood, Minn., died December 27, 2009 after a year-long battle with cancer. She wrote on a CaringBridge website throughout her last year, sharing her struggles and determination but almost always ending with some sort of edict for readers to get out there and enjoy the day. Because that’s what she did, even throughout most of the past year.

Brochman was a lifelong athlete, pursuing with gusto each of the many sports she participated in. To hear her brother, Tim Schroeder, tell it, she was genetically predisposed to do so.

“It’s just her tenacity, I guess. I don’t know where that came from. All of my family members have it. We all believed, ‘Why bother doing something half-assed?’ laughs Schroeder. “If you’re going to do it, do it well. Don’t just play at it, do it seriously and be the best at it. It doesn’t surprise me that Cindy was like that. It doesn’t surprise me at all that she improved her entire [athletic] career.”

As the only daughter in a family with three younger brothers, Brochman spent her younger years trying to stay one step ahead of the boys, both athletically and academically. As Schroeder recalled recently, “As siblings we would always push each other around. It’s life. But my father finally said to her one day, ‘You’d better be careful, they’re going to be bigger than you.’ And we were, eventually.”

But even then Brochman did manage to stay competitive with her brothers, leading the way by excelling at school through her 1987 graduation from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. and athletically throughout her entire life.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that Brochman only competed for two track seasons (1986 and 1987) and one cross country season (1986) at St. Olaf. She transferred to St. Olaf from UW-Platteville after her sophomore year. Her one and only collegiate cross country season, her senior year, was the year the St. Olaf women’s team took fifth place at the NCAA Division III championships. That one cross country season was enough to cement Cindy’s love affair with the sport and solidified a lifetime commitment to the program and to its long-time coach, Chris Daymont.

“I’ve coached way more talented kids than [Brochman]. But to this day I’ve never coached anyone as gutsy or quirky,” recalls Daymont. “She would do anything. She was so honest and so up front and so in your face. Honestly I loved it. If she had something to say, she said it. She was a difference maker.

“We did things that were amazing that year. [And Brochman] was the intangible glue that could put things together,” says Daymont. “She worked hard. What made her special was that she was always so in the moment; ready to take on any challenge.”

That team spirit led her to post-collegiate teams. She was a long-time member of the Run n Fun women’s racing team (a USATF-MN team sponsored by a locally-owned running store), a 12-year member of Baba Yaga, an all-women’s team competing (and winning or finishing second) at the grueling Hood to Coast relay race in Oregon, and a member of two USSSA (United States Snowshoe Association) national teams (2005 and 2006).

“Cindy was as much about wanting others to enjoy the team camaraderie as she was about individual accomplishments,” says Schroeder. “Not to say she wasn’t competitive – our whole family is. But she definitely wanted to make sure others were having fun. It was not just about her and her accomplishments.”

Brochman worked hard, played harder, and in her free-time she volunteered for the sports she loved. She served on the USATF-MN Board of Directors as Women’s Longest Distance Running chair for two years. She was USSSA’s Membership Chairperson for three years and had previously served for two years as its International Snowshoe Liaison.

Perhaps one of her biggest contributions was when she bid for, won and directed the 2007 U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in Minnesota. For that feat, as well as her own accomplishments as a racer, she was named the first-ever "Snowshoe Magazine Person of the Year" in 2007. Immediately following her death, the award was renamed “Snowshoe Magazine’s Cindy Brochman Memorial Person of the Year Award.”

“It would only be fitting to rename this award in Cindy’s honor because she not only meant a lot to Snowshoe Magazine but she meant a lot to the snowshoe racing community worldwide,” says Snowshoe Magazine Publisher Ryan Alford. “The snowshoe racing community owes a lot to Cindy for how much she’s given back. She’s certainly made her mark. She will be remembered well.”

And there have already been other remembrances for Brochman. This past fall Daymont unveiled the “Cindy Schroeder Brochman Alumni Cross Country Award” at the annual alumni meet. She says she began planning to name an award for Brochman five years ago, long before she was sick. Cindy was presented the first plaque at the meet. “I can guarantee you I will never forget that day,” says Daymont. “It was an amazing day in the history of St. Olaf cross country.”

Although Brochman’s time as part of the team at St. Olaf was relatively short, Daymont says her legacy has been great. Brochman has attended every alumni cross country meet since 1987. “Nobody else has done this. Nobody else came back every year,” says Daymont. “I’ve never seen her do anything halfway.” This past fall’s event was the one and only time she was unable to run the event, but she was still there to cheer the others on.

“She shows current St. Olaf students what they can be doing 22 years later – how well you can still be running – how this is a life-long sport,” says Daymont. “She also shows that once you’re part of this team, you’re part of it forever.” Daymont says Brochman is the embodiment of the depth, rich history and tradition of the St. Olaf cross country program and that is why she named an award for her.

Perhaps as a nod to how important Brochman’s two short years at St. Olaf were, Brochman’s parents, Bernie & Mary Anne Schroeder, are setting up a scholarship in Brochman’s name at the school.

The enormity of these gestures caught Brochman’s brother off-guard. “I’m kind of overwhelmed as her brother. I was unaware that she had that kind of impact,” says Schroeder. “It’s just now that I’m seeing these things. I would be surprised if she was aware of the impact she had.

“To her it was just a lifestyle. Just her lifestyle. It was not a question for her; it was a way of life,” continues Schroeder. “She never recognized the totality of what she was doing. I believe the totality of her athletic career was unique. She did a lot of stuff and was good at all of it.”

Fellow snowshoe racer and Minnesotan Brad Canham knew Brochman through racing but also because of work they did together for USSSA. Shortly after her death Canham wrote the following on a social networking website. It sums up Brochman well.

“Cindy was a tremendous competitor and a gracious and giving person. ... ‘Rest’ in peace may not be the right sentiment for an endurance athlete like Cindy, but perhaps a simple ‘Onward!’ is. So Onward Cindy, we'll miss you.”

Photo credits:
1. Cindy at Hood to Coast. Photo courtesy: Robin Balder-Lanoue & Team Baba Yaga
2. Cindy at 1987 Conference Track Meet; 5,000 meter. Photo courtesy: Chris Daymont
3. 1987 Saint Olaf women's track senior class. Photo courtesy: Chris Daymont
4. Cindy at 2008 Earth Day Half Marathon. Photo courtesy: Craig Yotter

5. Photo courtesy: Brochman family
6. Cindy at Rocky's Run 5K, 2004. Photo courtesy: Chris Fuller, The Sporting Life
7. Photo courtesy: Robin Balder-Lanoue & Team Baba Yaga

A small representation of Brochman’s many accomplishments and contributions:

–Member of an NCAA Division III-ranked volleyball team during her freshman year at UW-Platteville (1983).
–Consistently a top three runner for the fifth place NCAA Division III Cross Country Champion Saint Olaf women’s team in 1986
–Outdoor Track All Conference (1987) in 1500 and 5000 meter
–USSSA National Team in 2005 and 2006.
–Competed in Italy’s La Ciaspolada, the world’s largest competitive snowshoe race, in 2004 (16th), 2006 (18th), 2007 (14th) and 2008 (12th) making her the only U.S. snowshoe racer ever to compete four times. Her 2007 and 2008 races put her on the prestigious awards podium.
–Twelve-year member of Baba Yaga, an all-women’s team competing in the grueling Hood to Coast relay race in Oregon. Finished first: 1999, 2001-2007. Finished second: 1997, 1998, 2000, 2008.

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