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By Gus Bode

Jeff Schirmer has spent his life running through obstacles.

On the track, Schirmer has worked his way into the top-25 cross country runners in the nation. Off the track, he has become a standout collegiate athlete and student despite his difficult past.

Schirmer grew up in the foster care system after his mother gave birth to him when she was only 13. Schirmer said his mother had problems with drugs and alcohol and would be gone for days at a time. Eventually the state intervened and split up Jeff, his two sisters and brother, placing them into foster homes, he said.


Schirmer said he and his sister Amanda were put in one home while his sister Royal and brother Cody were put in another.

After Schirmer’s first foster family, he was old enough to choose whether he wanted to be adopted, but he decided against adoption and went to a boys’ home so he could keep his name.’

‘I wanted to keep my name because I wanted to make a better name for my family,’ Schirmer said.’

Schirmer moved to a boys’ home in Alton before he was put in a second foster home, which lasted all the way through high school. It was at Triad High School in Troy where Schirmer said he got his first taste of cross country. Schirmer said his high school coach Andy Brendel was a major influence on his competitive nature.

‘ ‘Jeff expects to be the best and win. When he gets second or third, he’s just not satisfied,’ Brendel said.

Schirmer said his grandmother was the biggest influence in his life. She would scrounge up money just to take the bus to see him compete in his high school track meets and football games.

Schirmer’s grandmother died during his freshman year at SIU and he said it was his teammates who helped fill the void.


‘I don’t know what I would have done without the support from my teammates when my grandmother passed away,’ Schirmer said.

Schirmer’s teammates say that he is as good of a person as he is a runner.

‘He has a strong and independent personality,’ said senior runner Jason Ordway. ‘He plays the role of being the big brother and he cares for everybody on the team.’ He really looks out for everybody’s best interest.’

Junior runner Greg McBride said Schirmer has been an inspiration to him and has helped him keep everything in perspective.’

‘He inspires me even though I’ve been dealt a good hand because he is a reminder that I could have been dealt that hand and things could have been worse for me,’ McBride said.

While Schirmer has garnered praise for his athleticism and perseverance, he has also been awarded in the classroom. Schirmer was selected as one of two Prairie Farms/Missouri Valley Conference Scholar-Athletes of the Week in November 2008 for having a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 in accounting.

Cross country coach Matt Sparks said if there was one person he could count on, Schirmer would be at the top of the list.

‘You always hear those horror stories about the foster care system,’ Sparks said. ‘But for a kid who grew up in the foster care system, he is the one guy on the team that if I ever needed somebody to babysit my 2-month-old baby and 4-year-old son; he is the first one I’m going to call.’