Kasey Schmidt recounts missile scare: ‘It was so terrifying … I thought of all the things I haven’t done.’

Last week’s ballistic missile scare was such a traumatizing experience for University of Hawaii swimmer Kasey Schmidt, she decided to write about it.

The lifelong St. Augustine resident wrote an essay she sent to Swimming World about the false alarm and how the Hawaii swim team dealt with it. The online magazine posted her story on Monday.

“I am an English and economics major and I felt so inspired to write about it because it was frightening,” the college junior said in a phone interview. “I think writing about it helped alleviate the stress.”

At about 8 a.m. last Saturday the swim team was doing a set of 30 50s in its 25-yard pool, meaning after two laps the swimmers would stop and then continue the set. On this particular break, the swimmers saw head coach Dan Schemmel running toward his phone. Everybody froze.

“We had a bad feeling. Nobody went for the next lap,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt thought there might be a gunman, which has always been a fear of hers during swim practice, because it would be “literally shooting fish in a barrel,” she said. She also thought about the possibility of a nuclear threat from North Korea, because in October the university began sending out emails and power points to students telling them to be informed and mindful about a threat to the islands.

Schemmel told the team to get out of the pool and led the swimmers to a door Schmidt had never seen before. They walked down concrete steps into a small dark room that Schmidt described in her essay as “a rather moldy room that hadn’t seen a human or a bleaching agent for a couple decades.”

Over 50 swimmers and coaches stood in the small room for about 15 minutes – there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit. There was one window that looked directly into the pool under the diving area.

“If the window was going to break, the pool would flood into the room, but we knew it was the safest place we could go,” Schmidt said.

The swimmers didn’t have their cell phones. Schmidt grabbed her water bottle from the pool deck on the way to the underground room. An assistant coach’s phone displayed the emergency alert: “A ballistic missile threat is inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Schmidt said her life flashed before her eyes.

“We’re college swimmers. We don’t stop practice unless it’s a life-threatening situation,” she said. “It was so terrifying, so disheartening. I thought of all the things I haven’t done.”

Then a calm swept over her. Even though her parents, Brandi and Kevin, weren’t there, she realized she loved everyone in the room – her boyfriend, who is also on the team, and all of her other teammates and coaches.

“I thought about the happiness I gained since I started swimming, the lifelong relationships I’ve gained through swimming. These are the people I’m inviting to my wedding. I had a real connection with everyone in that room,” she said

It struck her how differently people deal with a crisis situation. Some swimmers cried softly, but nobody screamed or panicked, she said. Some cracked jokes, such as, “At least we won’t have to finish the set.” Many comforted their distressed teammates.

Schmidt knew that panicking was useless. This wasn’t her first traumatic ordeal. Ten years ago, when she was 9, she was bitten by a shark on her right thigh while surfing with her mom in the ocean by her Vilano Beach home.

To this day, she doesn’t know how many stitches it took to sew up the wound.

“They stopped counting,” she said.

While the shark bite was painful, at least that was a controllable situation, she said.

“The situation Saturday was completely out of our hands, and that was the scariest part of it all,” Schmidt said.

In the week since the false alert, Schmidt’s life has returned to normal. She went to the beach and wrote the essay. The team got the rest of the day off but they are back in the pool, gearing up for next month’s conference meet.

Schmidt, a freestyle and butterfly sprinter, swam for the Bolles School after beginning her swimming career with the St. Augustine Cyclones.

She started her college career at the University of Virginia before transferring to Hawaii.

The ordeal, she said, brought the team closer together.

In the Swimming World essay, she wrote, “It’s interesting how something so frightening as facing one’s own mortality can connect a group of individuals on such a deep level.”

Local Roundup: Creekside tops Bartram in boys basketball district final

Four St. Johns County boys basketball teams are headed to the playoffs; Flagler College basketball teams split.


Creekside 32

Bartram Trail 30

Creekside won its second straight district title with a gritty win over rival Bartram Trail in the District 4-8A tournament final at Fleming Island. DJ Dumas blocked Xavier Hutchinson’s shot attempt late in the game to secure the win.

J’Michael Plummer led Creekside with 11 points. The senior guard scored six of his team’s seven points in the fourth quarter. Dumas, Noah Lippy and Bobby Kasprzak scored five apiece.

Hutchinson led the Bears (19-7) with 11 points. Ryan Colbert added eight. Creekside (23-4) will host Atlantic Coast on Thursday. Bartram Trail will travel to First Coast. Tipoff for both games is 7 p.m.

Englewood 63

St. Augustine 48

St. Augustine led top seed Englewood 19-16 at the end of the first quarter Friday night, but the host Rams (22-4) held the Yellow Jackets (11-16) to two points in the second quarter to take a 31-21 halftime lead on the way to the District 3-7A title.

Kyrie McMillian led St. Augustine with 13 points. The Jackets travel to Gainesville High on Thursday for a regional quarterfinal.

Palatka 58

Ponte Vedra 52

Jack Johnson blocked 10 shots in the first half and finished with 15 in Ponte Vedra’s loss Friday in the District 5-6A championship game at Matanzas High.

Logan Conway (12 points), Will Mons (12), Reese Russi (11) and Andrew Mathis (10) all scored in double figures for the Sharks. Johnson added eight rebounds, three assists and four points.

The Sharks play Gainesville Eastside on the road in a Region 2-6A quarterfinal Thursday night.


Atlantic Coast 3

Ponte Vedra 2

Michelle Leone and Olivia Zitiello each had two hits and drove in a run for the Sharks.

Zitiello’s RBI single in the second inning tied the game at 1l and gave her four RBIs in two games this season.

The Sharks (0-2) loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh but could not bring in the tying run.

Ponte Vedra pitcher Michelle Holder went the distance. She allowed three runs, struck out five and did not allow a walk.


Saints split

Flagler College (17-7, 14-5 Peach Belt Conference) defeated Francis Marion 64-52 Saturday at Flagler Gymnasium. Post players Tiffany Hodge (15 points) and Tabitha Odabe (11) combined to score 26 points for the Saints.

Odabe grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. Malaysia Robinson added 12 points. Francis Marion fell to 14-11, 11-9.

In the men’s game, Cortlin Davis led Flagler (9-15, 6-14) with 15 points and nine rebounds in a 66-58 loss to Francis Marion (18-7, 13-7). Damerit Brown added 13 points for the Saints.

The Saints will play their final home games Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. (women) and 7:30 p.m. (men) against Columbus State.