A public relations contact from Fox Sports North had pitched the idea of an interview with de St. Aubin, a former Gophers women’s soccer player who was part of the Fox broadcast team during the Women’s World Cup.
But the name didn’t jump out at me — and if someone who at least pays reasonable attention to all the Gophers teams didn’t recognize the name, I figured readers probably wouldn’t, either. It seemed like a marginal connection, and I was set to move on until …
I started tracking back and figured out that her name didn’t sound familiar because it’s her married name. When she played for the Gophers and at Stillwater High before that, she was Kyndra Hesse. (She married Bobby de St. Aubin, a noted soccer player himself, and her high school sweetheart since the 9th grade).
Kyndra Hesse was a name I definitely recognized. In fact, she was the subject of one of the earliest stories I ever wrote at the Star Tribune, back in September of 1998 when I was here on a six-month temporary job.
Nearly 17 years later, we spoke again Tuesday — about 24 hours before she did the color commentary on the dramatic and heartbreaking 2-1 Japan victory over England, in which the losing side fell on a stoppage time own goal.
As it turns out, we have a lot in common these days.
First, or course, she’s in the media — having fallen in love with the business on a whim in college and stuck with it ever since.
“I was typical – 100 percent focused on soccer and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. It got to be my junior year at Minnesota,” said Hesse, who graduated from Stillwater in 1999 and originally went to Wisconsin before transferring to play for the Gophers. “It was the point where if you want to be eligible, you have to declare a major. … I visited my brother who was doing a radio internship and was like, ‘dude you get paid for that.’”
She landed a sports radio job with ESPN’s local station in Wisconsin after graduation, which led to a radio job in Phoenix as well as some work with the Big Ten and Pac-12 Network doing soccer. That helped pave the way for more soccer assignments and the much larger stage this year with the World Cup.
“I’m the only analyst who didn’t play on the national team,” de St. Aubin said. “You see their bios and they have this many caps or gold medals. It’s a fabulous group.”
Whatever she did, it worked. She was supposed to be done after the quarterfinals, but on merit she earned analyst duties Wednesday as well. It was a professional high for de St. Aubin, though it was also a personal challenge since it meant more time away from her 16-month-old daughter, Adelynne.
It’s the first child for Kyndra and Bobby, so naturally we had to talk for a while about parenthood with our daughters (mine, Anabel, is 15 months) so close in age.
“It’s killing me right now because I was supposed to go home Sunday,” de St. Aubin said, even though she gladly stayed for the semifinal. “She was in Vancouver with me for four weeks because we were stationed there, but this is hard.”
She’s making it work, though, because all of it is a labor of love. “It’s not like I was ever trying to impress people,” de St. Aubin said of being a soccer analyst. “I just love soccer, and when I do a game it’s like watching on my couch with my husband.”
And she’s done it all while managing a serious medical condition. Part of the story I wrote way back in 1998 had to do with how de St. Aubin, one of the top soccer players in the state, had recently been diagnosed with systemic lupus. I shared with her my multiple sclerosis diagnosis from 2014 — the conditions are different, but they are both autoimmune disorders — and we both agreed that the biggest impact is on a person’s life perspective.
De St. Aubin said she had one flareup in 2008 that impacted her kidneys and took a while to clear up. Both of us, however, have been fairly fortunate in the big picture — though obviously she’s been dealing with lupus for far longer than I’ve been dealing with MS.
“I’ve been really lucky,” she said. “I’ve been really healthy most of my life.”
And I was lucky I decided to call. Half a lifetime later, it was nice to catch up.