Barnesville coach engaged to Olympic luger tapped to be opening ceremony flag bearer

BARNESVILLE, Minn. -- The wedding ring had "burned a hole" in the pants pocket of Barnesville assistant boys basketball coach Jon Hodge. He had all these elaborate plans for how he was going to ask four-time Olympic luger Erin Hamlin to marry him...
Jon Hodge, a teacher and coach at Barnesville (Minn.) High School, is engaged to Erin Hamlin, who will be the flagbearer for the United States Olympic Team at Friday night's Winter Games opening ceremonies in South Korea. Hamlin will compete in the luge competition. Submitted photo

BARNESVILLE, Minn. - The wedding ring had "burned a hole" in the pants pocket of Barnesville assistant boys basketball coach Jon Hodge. He had all these elaborate plans for how he was going to ask four-time Olympic luger Erin Hamlin to marry him, but they went out the window.

Hodge, 32, went the Cheerio route. When the two first started dating, they went to get ice cream. Hamlin, 31, keeps a box of Cheerios in her car to snack on after workouts. Hodge is big on sprinkles on his ice cream, but for some reason forgot to ask for sprinkles, so he reached into the backseat of her car, grabbed some Cheerios and threw them on his ice cream.

"I was missing the crunch, so I put some on," Hodge said. "It was awesome."

Four years later, on July 17, 2017, Hodge was spelling out-with Cheerios-W-I-L-L on one step and Y-O-U on another step leading into Hamlin's New York apartment. When she opened the door he was on one knee to finish the question. She said yes. The two are set to be married July 28 in the Hamlin's backyard.

But before that, Hodge is in South Korea with Hamlin, as she's set to be Team USA's flag bearer at Friday's opening ceremony for the Winter Games.

"It's a crazy story," Hodge said of their relationship.

Hodge's first summer spent in Remsen, N.Y., with his dad was when he was 9 years old. His parents had recently divorced and his mom came back to Minnesota, while his dad stayed in New York. The two had met in the Navy, but when they got married they settled in New York.

Hodge's dad was an electrician, working on the Hamlin's house. His dad was friends with the Hamlins, so Hodge, along with his sister, played with Hamlin and her two brothers, while his dad worked. The two wouldn't see or speak to each other for 20 years, although Hodge visited his dad every summer.

Hodge graduated from Barnesville High School in 2003, got his teaching degree from St. Cloud State. He's in his fifth year teaching physical education in Barnesville. Four years ago, he went out to New York for his cousin's high school graduation party. Hamlin's mom was a nurse at the high school Hodge's cousin graduated from and the Hamlins were friends of the family, so they were at the party.

And there was Erin, three months removed from becoming the first American to medal in the singles competition of the luge.

"We starting talking, I put the full-court press on, and we struck up a little fling if you will," Hodge said. "From then on, she's in season all fall and most of the winter and I have school, so we've been in a long-distance relationship. We've spent every summer together."

After the graduation party, Hodge extended his trip for a couple weeks. His friends back in Barnesville knew something was up when he called to say he couldn't make it to softball.

"Not that I don't love my family out there, but I was scheduled to only be there a week," Hodge said. "I don't remember what I used as an excuse to stay, but my buddies knew something was up. They know I hate having to call in about softball."

Hodge knew nothing about the luge. Hamlin is a two-time world champion and won a bronze medal in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Hamlin's dad works for Verizon, which was an Olympic sponsor when a flyer came across his desk seeing if any kids wanted to try to become a slider.

Hamlin, who was 12 at the time, tried it, sliding down the road on a sled with rollerblades and did well enough to come to an invite and get more details. She was hooked from there.

"First time I saw her live was in Utah. It's just a different event," Hodge said. "It's not a sporting event that you've ever really heard of, so to be able to see that or within feet of the track and the blink of an eye seeing them go by was crazy.

"Up front for me, I was like holy cow. I've seen a lot of sporting events and it gave me a feeling that's a little bit terrifying, but as time has gone it's gotten more fun. At the same time it's a rush. As much of adrenaline she's experiencing, her fans have almost as much. It's exciting and there's a little terror associated."

This will be the last time Hamlin competes in the Olympics, but she'll go out with a bang, as the flag bearer for Team USA.

"She's incredibly honored and humbled by the experience," Hodge said.

Hodge doesn't quite know where the two will end up, but he knows he loves his job in Barnesville, so he's hoping she comes to Minnesota. One way or another, they'll be together.

"That's the million-dollar question that doesn't have a million-dollar answer," Hodge said.