MACON, Ga. – There is something about a politician’s calendar that fills up quickly, but in the case of John Thune, Republican Senator from South Dakota, the first entries on his do not involve political meetings. For this Senator, priority number one has been family, and the events usually involve the cross country and track and field schedule of his daughter Brittany Thune.
Brittany Thune learned the importance of family from an early age before attending Belmont, playing a strong role in the election of her father to the senate seat, especially by starring in a series of commercials with sister Larissa. Now that re-election nears for John Thune in the fall of 2010, the family considers making more commercials for the voters of South Dakota.
“Those were a really, really big hit six years go, so I think we’re going to be doing some this spring or summer,” she said. “It will be really interesting because people haven’t seen us now for six years. We went off to college and really grew up. I think South Dakota voters will really like it too, seeing how much we have changed. I come from a really conservative smaller state, they love seeing the family involved so those were a huge hit.”
On TV, commercials aside, John Thune usually speaks on the behalf of the Republican Party, who has been looking up to him, asking him to step up much more lately. Around campus, Brittany Thune hears about her father’s appearances more often now than in the past.
“We need people paying attention, there’s a lot of stuff going on right now in the political world,” Brittany Thune said. “College students tend to not be as engaged as you’re doing your own thing. There are students that definitely pay attention, especially in the political science department, but I find that a lot of students really just aren’t that into it now. This is your future, so you should be paying attention.”
Brittany Thune knows firsthand about paying attention to the events around her. She knows her father to be very influential in the Senate right now, as John Thune has earned the respect of people not just in his home state but across the country as well.
“What I love about him is he’s super grounded in his values because he stands up so much for what he believes in,” she said. “A lot of people look up to him in the Senate, and I’ve really watched him grow and develop as a Senator and as a leader and that’s been extremely influential. I just see him making a difference because he wants to make a difference. He wants to make this country a better place.”
Though challenging at times, attending Belmont did not seem to alter these family values much, even with the variation from Sioux Falls, S.D. to Nashville, Tenn.
“I think it’s just one thing that speaks well on behalf on my parents, they just raised me very well,” Brittany Thune said. “They are very firmly grounded in their faith and in their values. The same goes for me. It’s just like at any college, you’re challenged at times and your views are challenged. If anything, they were strengthened.”
At Belmont, Brittany Thune is actively pursuing a business major and political science minor. She sometimes finds it difficult to keep the family name under wraps on campus, especially in her political science classes – her favorite, but with the help of a favorite professor, it is not difficult.
“When I came to Belmont I really wanted to keep that under cover, in South Dakota you’re kind of a star because it’s so small,” she said. “Everybody knew me because of my dad. I chose Belmont because of running and other things. But, I also wanted to go somewhere where people wouldn’t know me. I wanted to find out who I was as a person, so I really kind of tried of keep that quiet.”
A fan of John Thune, her political science professor remained very encouraging of the young academic and athlete, never using the Senator’s daughter as an example in class and respecting Brittany Thune’s desire to be an individual.
“I’m Brittany Thune, I’m not John Thune, I’m John Thune’s daughter,” the senior said. “He (my professor) respected that and knew that I was going to school. What he liked about me too was that I worked really hard. He was always really appreciative of that.”
This work ethic always translated onto the course, as Brittany Thune turned in the fastest time at the 2009 A-Sun Cross Country Championships. The reigning women’s cross country individual champion took control of the race early to finish the race in 17:17, becoming the sixth repeat women’s champion in women’s history, and the first since Campbell’s Alicia Valtin won in 2006.
In late October, John Thune took time out of his busy schedule to travel to DeLand, Fla. for the A-Sun Cross Country Championships to see his daughter cross the finish line just 14 seconds ahead of her closest competitor, Kennesaw State junior Mackenzie Howe.
“People do not understand how dedicated he is to his family, it’s incredible,” Brittany Thune said. “I think about the things that he does and how he stays so busy, especially with all the things going on in Congress right now. I am the top priority. My cross country meets are the top priority.”
As family always ranked as a priority for the young politician, scheduling Brittany Thune’s athletic events into his calendar comes before anything else.
“My dad is never too busy for his family, for his kids,” she said. “We’re behind him and he’s behind us, we’re all on each other’s team. You’re each other’s support group. He supports me in running and I support him in his job.”
Having that family support seems to propel the senior on the course as the four-time all-conference performer and 2006 Freshman of the Year turned in the fastest time at an A-Sun Championship since Valtin’s 2005 time of 16:56, and the third fastest time for a winner in A-Sun history.
“I love having them at my meets, my mom is one of my number one fans,” Brittany Thune said. “I just get butterflies when I know they’re going to be at a meet.”
As John Thune proves to be a great influence for the Republican Party in Washington, D.C, he shows himself to be an even greater influence as a father figure to Brittany Thune, as she values many of the qualities that they share.
“I’m very driven like him and I’m very motivated and determined,” she said. “In high school I was the one who always wanted to be with my dad at lots of campaign events. I just really like being involved.”
Even though Brittany Thune finds herself in the political sphere, she also attended Belmont for several other reasons, especially for the school’s location in the “Music City” and the ability to take classes in the top-rated music school.
“There was a time when I pursued something different,” Brittany Thune said. “I’ve always been really into music and was thinking of going that route. It’s funny, now I find myself going back and I just find myself really interested. I feel like my political science classes have been the classes I’ve been the most interested in, more so than my business major. I feel like if I were to do it over again, I probably would have been a political science major. But, it’s too late now.”
As Brittany Thune nears the finish line at Belmont, she looks to continue her education at law school, keeping several in mind across the country, knowing that her family hopes to have her closer to home this time around.
“Pepperdine’s definitely at the top of my list, I was so attracted to Pepperdine because it’s smaller like Belmont,” she said. “Part of me has always loved new adventures, but this time I’m looking at something a little bit closer like in Minneapolis, and I’ve thought about looking in Washington, D.C. to be near my dad. But, Pepperdine’s the one that’s been on my radar.”
If Brittany attended a graduate school in the nation’s capitol, she would return familiar to the area, having interned for a summer in the White House for the Office of Political Affairs during President George W. Bush’s second term.
“My job was to keep, in essence, the President up to date on everything that was going on in the South,” Brittany Thune said. “Every day, the first thing I had to do was look up everything that was going on, and I could not miss something. I printed out all these issues in all these newspapers and all these things that are going on and I would give them to my director. She would look through it and see what was important, and then eventually, they would probably brief him.”
The internship proved to be a great experience, helping Brittany get interested in following her father’s footsteps, however challenging as her schedule proved to be through 60-hour work weeks and two-a-day cross country training sessions.
“It was like public service for me because, in essence, politicians are supposed to be serving their state and their country, trying to do the best things for the nation,” she said. “That’s where I learned that it’s a lot bigger than just politics. It’s about service. Now a lot of times people don’t treat it that way, but that’s what you do when you get elected to office, you’re serving the people that you represent. I loved it because it was such a great experience. For me, it was just being a part of the decisions that were being made for the country. I’m serving my country by working for the White House, because the decisions that are being made here affect everybody.”
Speaking of the White House, someday Brittany Thune has hopes to see her father’s name on a ballot for President.
“There’s a part of you that would feel super, there’s probably a certain amount of pride,” Brittany Thune said. “You know you’re so proud of how much he’s accomplished. But at the same time, this is my dad. This name is my father’s, so it would be incredible. I think he deserves to have his name on a ballot like that someday, for sure. I don’t know about 2012, but someday his name should be on a ballot.”
“Watching him has really inspired me and that’s part of the reason I chose to pursue law because I want to do the same, she said. “I want to do something that’s going to make a difference, like him.”
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The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.