Monday, May 30, 2011

Andrew Hausmann: Following in his father's footsteps

'Give more of yourself' is among advice 35W bridge collapse victim gave Harvard-bound son
Updated: 05/30/2011 10:45:26 AM CDT

Deciding whether to void his commitment to Cornell for Harvard would have been enviable if it weren't so agonizing for Rosemount prodigy Andrew Hausmann. Choosing the country's most prestigious university meant ditching another Ivy League heavyweight, and football, for the all-state running back.

As tough as this was, it wasn't much, relatively speaking, for an 18-year-old who has been shaped but not defined by a national tragedy that hit home.

Strive for excellence. Gain from experience. Give more of yourself. Enduring lessons imparted by his father, Peter, a former missionary and software engineer who drowned trying to save other victims of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, that strengthen Hausmann as one of Minnesota's hugely talented high school students embarks on his life's journey.

"I can't help but think about my father when I think about giving everything you have," Hausmann said over dinner this month. "Never accept anything less than your best. At the point where you failed, you've peaked. The most taxing times of your life are where you have the most opportunity to grow."

Harvard, here comes one gifted athlete, scholar, performer and survivor.

"Andrew reminds us so much about what it means to be the best person you can be," gushed Steve Albaugh, choir director at Rosemount High School.

Athletics director Mike Manning added: "For Andrew to do what he's done athletically, academically, in band and choir, has been an incredible example to other students at our school."


Such proclamations would be easy to write off as hyperbole until one examines Hausmann's resume, which flows with achievements from stage, classroom and field: all-state in football and track; excellence rating as a trumpet player; 3.86 grade-point average; Olympic-style weightlifting champion; best-in-site singer and superior rating as a soloist.

He is training to compete in the long jump and 400 meters for the Crimson. After perfect scores in mathematics on the ACT and SAT exams, Hausmann has narrowed his undeclared major to that and four other fields - chemical engineering, economics, philosophy or mechanical engineering.

Hausmann also plans to fulfill pre-med requirements.

"I really want to do pre-law, too, but I can't," he said longingly, as if worried about being branded a slacker.

The ambitious curriculum feeds an insatiable appetite for knowledge rooted in his relationship with his father and God - a deep faith Peter Hausmann cultivated for his family while building schools and churches and working to stop the spread of AIDS in the late 1980s as a Catholic missionary in Kenya, where he met his wife, Helen.

The couple married in 1990 and moved from east Africa to the Twin Cities to raise a family. Andrew's siblings include his older sister, Justina, a sophomore at the University of St. Thomas, and David and Theresa, who are in seventh and fifth grades, respectively.

Peter Hausmann grew up on a South Dakota ranch and considered becoming a priest like his older brother, Leo. Computer science was not as high a calling, but it was the vocation that suited Peter's intellect. It allowed him to work abroad before settling into a job as a security specialist at Assurity River Group in St. Paul.

On summer drives to South Dakota to visit family, Peter would engage his grade-school-age son on numerous subjects.

"My dad fed me information when I was little and I would just listen to what he had to say because he had been everywhere," Andrew recalled. "He talked about when he had lived in Israel, when he was in Scandinavia doing programming on this ATM-like machine.

"I remember distinctly just sitting in the back of the car and just thinking. I would ask questions and he wouldn't be like, 'Oh, you'll learn about that next year. Oh, you'll talk about this in high school or oh, I hated that stuff.' He would show me," Andrew continued.

"Last year in chemistry, we were talking about electrons and structures and I remembered my dad showing me that three years earlier and was, like, 'Ah, now I know what you were talking about.' "


For each member of the Hausmann family, there is a clear demarcation - the life they knew before Aug. 1, 2007, and the lives they live today.

Andrew was 14 and a week shy of his first high school football practices when his father died.

Peter was stuck in traffic and talking to Helen on his cellphone about picking up groceries when the call abruptly dropped.

His empty van was pulled from the Mississippi River four days after the bridge plunged into the water, a disaster that killed 13 people and injured more than 100. His body was not recovered until Aug. 9.

Peter survived the initial collapse, escaped his van and the twisted wreckage and scrambled to shore, according to police. An autopsy revealed he suffered a broken shoulder and fractured rib, likely from falling debris.

Witness accounts relayed by a police chaplain to the Hausmanns said Peter swam through the turbulent waters attempting to rescue a child strapped in a car seat in another submerged vehicle.

"He had his arms outstretched when he died. That's how they found him," Andrew said.

Most likely, Peter was trying to rescue Sadiya Sahal of St. Paul and her 22-month-old daughter, Hanah. Their remains were discovered near Peter's body.

"Can you think of a better way to die?" Andrew asked. "You can say he didn't actually save her, but what did he do as a result? If you look at how many people have looked at his death as a catalyst for their own lives, it's not just me or my family. It's co-workers, people just reading his story and how he was an inspiration.

"I'm just like, 'Wow.... Wow.' "

Dave Bierly, a freshman football coach and counselor at Rosemount High, recalls hearing Andrew eulogize his father at the funeral with the command and poise of a senator.

"I turned to the other coaches who were sitting there watching this kid speak so eloquently and thought there's no way he's 14," Bierly said.


Andrew said his church and the Rosemount community rallied to support his mother and siblings. Donations helped her pay down the mortgage and buy groceries and school supplies. But the mourners and charity receded, leaving Helen, a homemaker who has no driver's license, to rely on Social Security benefits to raise three kids.

Eventually, the I-35W Victims Compensation Fund relieved their economic crisis, but the loss of the patriarch shifted more responsibility to Justina and Andrew, including:

"Things as small as waking up and having clean dishes, groceries and taking out the trash. Entertaining the younger ones. Helping us with homework, putting us to bed, punishing us," Andrew said. "My sister needs clay for a school project at 10:30 at night. I have homework myself and want to go to bed. I am the one who goes and gets it."

Andrew grieved but he did not isolate himself, or become embittered about how his father died and let his grades suffer. Rather, his drive intensified, Bierly said.

"Even though he dealt with it better than you can ask any kid to deal with it, it was still a very difficult time," his counselor said. "I think he's a very thoughtful, rational thinker who's thought it through and determined that anger would not do anything positive. He determined he was going to make his dad proud, and I think he knows his dad is proud."

Helen said her husband instilled a work ethic and selflessness in all of their children but believes Peter's spirit is strongest in her oldest son.

During the summer of 2008, Helen and the children visited her family in Kenya for the first time without Peter. Typhoid was ravaging the village, and Andrew's grandparents were lamenting the scarcity of clean drinking water.

"They said they needed a well, and Andrew got up and said, 'I'm bored. Where do you want it, Grandpa?' " Helen recalled. "I remember laughing my head off. Well, within two weeks I saw water, and he said, 'I did it.' People are now drinking good water, and nobody from my family has had typhoid.

"That's when I saw Peter's spirit in Andrew."


In conversation, Andrew reveals an intensity that is both intriguing and intimidating. He rarely cracks a smile, and his gaze cuts through pretense like a laser. But he is willing, between bites of a prime rib sandwich and sweet-potato fries, to engage on topics ranging from the NBA draft to African history, the Minnesota Orchestra to the human genome.

He was accepted into Harvard, Cornell and Brown and initially committed to Cornell, which offered him a chance to continue playing football.

"I thought my decision was made," he said.

But during a final recruiting visit to Cambridge, Mass., in January, Andrew was seduced by Harvard's tradition and its proximity to Boston, broad social network, unmatched academics and the chance to help rebuild a declining track program.

By spring, he made up his mind. He wanted Harvard as much as it wanted him, and there was no turning back.

While track builds bonds among teammates and provides opportunities to flourish individually, the tradeoff means no more opportunities for Andrew to experience the collective triumphs and failures of a football team after Rosemount finished runner-up to Wayzata in last year's Class AAAAA Prep Bowl.

"That's going to be a tough one for me," said Andrew, who led an Irish rushing attack that gained more than 2,700 yards in 2010. "Right now, I'm in the process of accepting it. I know I'm not going to miss out with track. But I'm going to have times where I'm like, 'Gosh, I really want to go out there and hit somebody and score some touchdowns.' "

Andrew holds the Rosemount record in the triple jump at 44 feet 10 inches. Though the 400-meter individual and relay are his marquee events, he won the 200-meter individual at last week's South Suburban Conference meet and is expected to compete in several individual and team events at the state championships in June.

"The leadership he's brought to both football and track --- he's not driven by ego at all," Manning said. "He's the first one to practice and the last one there. The person who works hardest in the weight room. The kid who comes up to somebody who's struggling and puts an arm on his shoulder and says something positive. He's a wonderful role model."


In March, Andrew was named one of four winners of the Minnesota State High School League's Triple "A" Award for excellence in academics, athletics and arts.

He has played in band for four years but only recently studied music literature and sharpened his voice for concert performances and solo competition.

Last month, he earned the first perfect score from a judge who has appraised singers for 20 years, according to Albaugh.

"He sang for the judge, and the judge cried," Albaugh said.

After four years of grieving and preparing for college, Andrew is eager for new challenges and embraces the uncertainty of his future. He knows harder work and more sleepless nights await, and he often thinks about the path his father chose as a young man.

Peter Hausmann was 26 in 1985 when he followed his calling to Kenya to help refugees displaced by disease and a corrupt government. His friend, the Rev. John Kaiser, was shot to death in 2000 under suspicious circumstances. The week of the bridge collapse, Peter had just learned the Kenyan government had ordered a new investigation into the shooting.

"Lives on the line, stories on the edge of death, he brought that to our family. That outlook on life that you give everything you can, and you take what you can, too," Andrew said. "Gain what you can from experience and, if nothing else, give everything."

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