FARGO – Jerry Gores left his position as the head women's track and field coach at North Dakota State in 1999 to enter private business. But he never stopped caring, especially in the last couple of weeks.
When the message came that one of his former stars could use a helping hand, Jerry went into coaching mode of sorts. Last Saturday morning when NDSU hosted the University of North Dakota in football, a plasma cutout of a buffalo showed up in the front yard of Mark and Andi (Noel) Olsonawski.
Among other things, the steel-looking depiction of the Bison was a sign of strength.
That's what Andi brought to the women's track program from the day she stepped on campus in 1997. She excelled at a couple of the toughest events in the sport: the seven-event heptathlon, while dabbling in the middle distance grinders like 400 hurdles. Ever had to find that extra energy in the homestretch in one of those events? I haven't either, but it looks rather tough.
So when the news hit Andi that she was diagnosed with brain cancer, those that know her have no doubt she'll have the strength to beat it. That's her message on her CaringBridge website page.
"I compare it to the national championship prep," she wrote. "I am conserving energy. I am getting focused. I am preparing more than I've ever prepared in my life. All that training and preparation has come down to this-the race of my life and I believe I WILL WIN."
Gores saw plenty of that fight when he recruited her from Stephen, Minn. So did former teammate Jill (Theeler) Schlekeway, who was her roommate for three years at NDSU. Both were All-Americans at NDSU who are walking a similar success path, working at home raising multiple children.
"She and I traded a couple of text messages and it doesn't surprise me that she has a lot of support around her," Schlekeway said. "They've impacted and reached a lot of people. It's just the way they are-they are the best of the best. They'll have a lot of support in every way."
As college athletes, those two were the best of the best that set the table for NDSU's rise to Division I. The Bison have won every Summit League women's indoor and outdoor title since they've been in the league because the Division II athletes before them raised the standard.
Gores recruited Andi and got her college career off to a smashing start. Ryun Godfrey took it from there when he took over as head coach. A young coach named Stevie Keller was getting his expertise going in coaching the multi-athletes like Noel. NDSU won an NCAA Division II indoor national title with that kind of combination.
So the bond is there, and years don't seem to diminish it.
"My first thought came when I was coming back from Canada, I got these seven text messages on my phone from Andi, who went on to explain her situation," Gores said. "I about drove off the road. it was just really a sinking feeling in my stomach. Here's a young lady with a beautiful family, at this stage of her life and that was shocking. But from there, I have never seen anybody with any stronger faith and character on how her and family are handling this."
Andi will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks and will most likely have treatments after that. A "healing service" has been organized for Monday from 7-8 p.m. at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in north Fargo. For more information, people are asked to call 701-371-4050.
Three of her kids are in youth hockey and their organization, Fargo Angels hockey, has a T-shirt fundraiser on its website. Holy Spirit school is organizing meals and house cleanings. Nobody ever won a North Central Conference track and field meet by themselves, so it's no different this year than it was in the late 1990s.
"I know people are reaching out," Schlekeway said, "and it matters."