Jude Schimmel spoke into the phone late Wednesday with such passion and conviction you could almost hear her smiling. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were talking to your favorite auntie under the arbor on the pow wow grounds instead of 21-year-old Louisville student who just published her first book.
Schimmel has gone from dreamchaser to dreamcatcher in what can only be described has been a remarkable journey. She hopes to inspire Native Americans across the country with the release of “Dreamcatcher,” an autobiography available at JudeSchimmel.com. Her plan, along with agent, and co-editor Rick Laemmle, was to time the release with tonight’s WNBA Draft, but word spread throughout Indian country and people placed pre-release orders.
“We were a little surprised with the early sales. [Wednesday] was the official release date, but people discovered the website, and orders started going out on Tuesday,” Laemmle told ICTMN. “We don’t have any official numbers, but I would say first-day sales were in the thousands.”
Schimmel and her family catapulted into the public eye when the TLC documentary “Off the Rez” was released in 2011, drawing national acclaim. But with “Dreamcatcher,” Jude says, “I get to tell my story. But more importantly, I’m just trying to make a positive difference for as many people as possible,” Schimmel told ICTMN. “I am so passionate about making a difference, for Native Americans especially. So writing about where I grew up, [and] my relationship with my family wasn’t hard. But talking about my accomplishments was a little difficult because I’ve always tried to stay level-headed about it all.”
Her writing effort focuses on: growing up on the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon; her storied four-year collegiate basketball career, which includes playing in a Final Four and a national championship game; and helping educate non-Natives about what’s important in the Native communities across the country. “One of the things I make clear with my book is that I’m not saying reservation life is bad or it’s all negative. I’m not saying that at all,” said Schimmel, who graduated from college in three years, and earned the NCAA Elite 89 award for having the highest grade point average in the 2013 NCAA basketball championships. “What I’m trying to do is support people living on reservations. Reservations lack opportunities and lack resources and that’s part of the problem. I don’t think Native Americans necessarily have to leave the reservation to be successful. I’m just providing some encouragement that you can do whatever you want.”
Jude and her older sister Shoni, who is a star guard for the Atlanta Dream, helped turn the Louisville women’s team into a national powerhouse. Jude had six points and three assists to help Louisville shock top-ranked and previously unbeaten Baylor 82-81 in the 2013 Sweet 16. Two nights later, the Schimmel sisters combined for 39 points in the Cardinals victory over traditional power Tennessee to advance to the second Final Four in Louisville history. Jude had 15 points in 30 minutes and Shoni finished with 24.
“It wasn’t easy to get here, but all my hard work just paid off,” said Jude, who played in the NCAA Tournament all four years, and finished as part of a senior class that is the winningest Louisville women’s basketball team in history (112-31). “Everybody loves Shoni because she’s so great at basketball. I thank Shoni and my parents [Rick and Ceci Schimmel] for opening the door for me. But Shoni and I have our own identities, and we’ve both made a name for ourselves. I feel like we complement each other really well.”
As she wrote “Dreamcatcher,” she was traveling the country in the middle of her final season, and working on her master’s degree in sports management. Her life off the court is a busy one, including being a featured keynote speaker at the National Unity Conference, and talking to more than 40 Native American tribes throughout the country. She was also named one of Glamour Magazine’s Top 10 College Women in 2013.
Earlier this month, two major events came to pass. Schimmel became a Nike/N7 ambassador, and she visited the White House with philanthropic leaders, policy makers, tribal leaders, and youth. The event was designed as part of President Obama’s launch of Generation Indigenous. “President Obama and Michelle Obama started the Gen I Initiative to help Native youth improve their opportunity to succeed,” Schimmel explained. “I had a chance to meet with Michelle Obama. It really hit home because she knew a lot more than I expected. Her passion made it feel real, like we can make a difference.”
But despite all the new opportunities coming Schimmel’s way, tonight’s WNBA Draft is the main event. Will Atlanta reunite the Schimmel sisters? Or will they be on opposite sides for the first time in their storied careers?