Across the country, people are cheering on the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team as it chases a gold medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
But for three College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University graduates, the connection is far more personal.
Former SJU football standout Mike Zumwinkle ’86 and his wife Lori (Bodensteiner) Zumwinkle ’87, who herself played tennis at CSB and is a former member of the CSB Board of Trustees, are the parents of forward Grace Zumwinkle, who starred at the University of Minnesota and is playing in her first Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, veteran defender Lee Stecklein, now playing in her third-straight Olympics, is the sister of 2017 SJU graduate Ross Stecklein, who played four years of hockey for the Johnnies himself.
“The No. 1 feeling I have is just gratitude,” Mike Zumwinkle said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity she’s getting to represent her country, and to all of those who helped her along the way – the bus drivers, the coaches, the equipment managers, the other parents who gave her rides to the rink when we couldn’t. There has been an amazing network of support all the way through.
“A lot of these athletes had Dads who played in the NHL, or an uncle who was a hockey star somewhere. We didn’t have that. Grace came home one day in Kindergarten and said her crush was playing hockey so she wanted to try it too. We went out and got the $150 starter kit and the day before she told me she didn’t want to do it anymore. I told her we had to give it a shot and she just took to it right away.”
Because of COVID-19, family members have been unable to make the trip to China to watch their athletes compete. But the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has set up a series of gatherings in Park City, Utah – bringing family members of Olympians out in waves to gather and cheer on Team USA.
That’s where the Zumwinkles were when Grace scored a goal in the third-period of a 5-0 preliminary round win over the Russian Olympic Committee.
“That was such an emotional moment,” Lori Zumwinkle said. “It’s still amazing just thinking about it. I was sitting next to the mother of a three-time Olympian and she handed me a napkin because I was crying. I was so overjoyed. It was just incredible to see her on the TV screen celebrating after scoring a goal in the Olympics. I am so proud of her.”
While this is a new experience for the Zumwinkles, the Steckleins have been through it twice already. Lee was part of the U.S. team that won a silver medal in Sochi (Russia) in 2014 and the team that brought home a gold in PyeongChang (South Korea) in 2018.
“We’re very excited to see her there with her teammates again,” said Ross Stecklein, who is now the territory manager for Paragon 28, an orthopedic implant company, and whose fiancé Laura Schmitt is also a 2017 CSB grad.
“It’s still as thrilling as ever. But the dynamic has changed a little bit. During her first Olympics, she was 18 and there were a lot of emotions for both she and us. Now she has developed a different role on the team where the nerves may be slightly less overwhelming but the pressures to be a leader have grown.
“One thing that hasn’t changed though is how proud we are of her.”
And both she and Zumwinkle are hoping to bring home the gold.
“That’s what we’re all hoping to see,” Ross said. “But you can’t take anything for granted at this level. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
“They asked us when we knew Grace was going to be an Olympian,” Mike Zumwinkle added. “I’m not sure when you ever realize that until it happens. But the one thing she has always had is a competitive drive. She’s always been very disciplined and when she’s finds something that is a passion for her she pursues it.
“There are only 23 players on this team. They started with 28 in September, then winnowed it down. So it’s an incredibly rare opportunity and it makes you realize just how talented each of these players really are.”
- During her first Olympics in 2014, Stecklein was a teammate of Anne(Schleper) Span, a St. Cloud Cathedral High School graduate whose father Jim is an SJU graduate and whose mother Deb is a graduate of CSB.