The Creation Myth: Caroline Thesier Pt. 1

Caroline Thesier was one of the most touted recruits in the history of Vanderbilt Bowling, but how does she recall her path to Music City?
Caroline Thesier steps up to bowl. (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)
Caroline Thesier steps up to bowl. (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)
Sofia El-Shammaa

Every civilization has its creation myth. Romulus and Remus are cast out and found Rome. The Aztecs venture south until they see an eagle clutching a snake, then they build Tenochtitlan. Every great kingdom that ever stood has sought to justify its place in the cosmos with a story of how it came to be.

And thus, on occasion, it is with people. But people are not empires, nor states or cultures. They are often so unremarkable that we do not care how they perceive themselves as having reached their present destination. Their narrative does not matter, at least not in the grand scheme.

And yet, every once in a while, some human being does something remarkable, and it is then that we begin to care about their creation myth. But the myth, the narrative, the story was always there, and the person always had the ability to do something remarkable, to be something remarkable. We simply did not see them for what they were: something greater than themselves.

And so, at the age of 11, begins the creation myth of Caroline Thesier.

“We were actually on vacation,” Thesier told The Hustler. “Vanderbilt football was playing Purdue football on TV.”

This was, from the perspective of the present, the midpoint of Thesier’s life. By this point, at the age of 11, the young North Carolina-native had bowled for over half a decade. Such an early start seems remarkable to one not acquainted with bowling, yet the elementary ages are a common introduction point for the sport’s most accomplished players. And yet, at this moment in time, Thesier had not yet decided that that’s what she wanted to be.

“I vividly remember my dad looking at me, because Purdue also has a club bowling team, and [asking] ‘did you know that you could go bowl in college for these schools,” Thesier said. “And I asked him, ‘well, which one is a better school?’”

Thesier, at the age of 11, is also not set on her current career path. It will be another four years before she becomes introduced to psychology, the field that will enthrall her, and yet she already knows that whatever she does, she wants to do well.

“He [replied] ‘Vanderbilt,’” Thesier said. “I was 11, and I said ‘I’m going to go to Vanderbilt and I’m going to bowl.’”

But there is one slight problem: Vanderbilt and Purdue Football did not play during this period. Perhaps it was a different school, perhaps it was a different sport and perhaps it was something else entirely. And yet, in making sense of who Thesier is, there really is no problem at all.

The factuality of the creation myth is never what’s important. What’s important is what it tells us about the people telling it — and, in this instance, it tells us a lot.

“That was kind of like that turning point where … now I have a goal,” Thesier said. “And I ended up here, so it’s pretty cool to look back on that story.”

Enunciated here is the essence of Thesier, her life and her story. She is a being whose narrative is centered on goals. As one is accomplished, another is created; and, as one is sought after, little else matters. She is not obsessive, per say, but immensely dedicated, and not to some abstract ideal of greatness or charity or providence. Instead, she is a pursuer of concrete goals.

“From the time she was very little, she has been setting goals for herself and working very hard to achieve those goals,” her father, Jack Thesier, said. “When she sets her mind to something, she almost always accomplishes it.”

That fixation on goals is present in Jack Thesier’s own telling of his daughter’s creation myth.

“One night, when she was 12 years old, her and I were out to dinner,” the elder Thesier said. “The NCAA Bowling Championships came on ESPN on the TV at the restaurant.”

The year is 2014, and the match is a tight contest between Sam Houston State and Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, with four national titles, are the sport’s defining program and the reigning champions. The Bearkats, on the other hand, have never won a championship, nor come particularly close. But on the Sam Houston State roster is Rebecca Pittser, a denizen of Huntersville N.C. — a town a mere 20 minutes from the Thesiers’ residence.

“She [Caroline] watched very intently, as there was a girl from our area actually bowling,” Thesier’s father said. “We watched the whole thing and she ended up seeing the girl she knew throw a strike to win the National Championship.”

And so the young Thesier, by then receiving lessons and playing locally, realizes that the world of bowling is much bigger than her corner of North Carolina. It is, in fact, a continent broad, perhaps even as wide as the world itself, and somebody like her, someone who lives just 20 minutes from her, is now the center of this world. This is when the first goal is set.

“She asked me if there are any good colleges with bowling programs,” Thesier’s father said. “I mentioned a few, including Vanderbilt.”

At this moment in time, the Commodores are one of the sport’s elite programs, but they are not quite the juggernaut they are today. The team has one national title, accomplished seven years prior, and is the reigning national runner-up. But, then as now, the draw of Vanderbilt is not just the program — it’s also the city and, in this case especially, it’s the university.

And so, Thesier signed with the Commodores long before she put pen to paper and planted her signature on a letter of intent. It was this day, more than half a decade before she would enroll on campus, that her mind was made up.

“She looked right at me and said, ‘Dad, I want to bowl for Vanderbilt on ESPN one day,” Thesier said. “From that night forward, she began practicing every day with very few exceptions.”

Head coach John Williamson did not know it, but he already had the first recruit in his class of 2020 locked up. The only thing left was for Thesier to prove she deserved a spot on the roster.

That would not take long.

“She [Thesier] was an easy target,” associate head coach Josie Barnes said. “She was a kid who grew up bowling the national events.”

It would be later in 2014 that Thesier won her first youth tour title. Three years later, at the age of 15, Thesier ascended to the highest rank of her age division — a spot she would never relinquish. In one year alone, she won the Teen Masters Hampton Roads Open Championship, the Storm Youth Championship, the U15 Tough Shots Tour, the U15 12-Bagger Tour Bowler of the Year award, tied for third place at the U15 Junior Gold Championships and earned a spot on the Storm All-American Team.

At the age of 16, she continued winning. A sophomore in high school, she took home a fifth-place finish at the Teen Masters Championships, clinched another spot on the Storm All-American Team and earned the U20 Tough Shots Tour Bowler of the Year award.

She was not a star in the making — she was a star. But that wasn’t particularly the lifestyle she wanted to live.

“She was actually pretty shy and quiet in her pre-college life,” her father said. “She bowled and did homework and really not much else.”

The young Thesier, in those early years of national success, had stumbled upon a second passion: psychology.

“When she was 15, we got some one-on-one time with a sports psychologist known in the industry as Dr. Dean,” Thesier’s father said. “She was fascinated with the things he told her and the amazing effects it actually had on her.”

The man in question is Dr. Dean Hinitz, a Nevada-based psychologist and self-help guru who specializes in advising bowlers. A consultant with Team USA, Dr. Hinitz has a PhD from the University of Nevada, where he serves as an adjunct professor. With Ted Talk-style positivity and the exuberance of a modern thought leader, Dr. Hinitz has become the authority on bowling psychology.

“The two became pretty close and they would talk regularly before major events,” Thesier’s father said. “She also started working with a local person; She would hook Caroline up to this machine that read her brain waves.”

The young Thesier was enthralled.

“[The machine] would play a movie, but the movie would only play when she put her brain in whatever state they were looking for,” the elder Thesier said. “She found this fascinating.”

And so young Thesier, as she began her climb to the top of amateur bowling, came to set another goal: become a sports psychologist. Yet the goals were intertwined. If Thesier wanted to become a successful sports psychologist, she would need a quality university education. Nowhere in the bowling world could offer what Vanderbilt could, and so her two goals began to express themselves as one: make it into Vanderbilt. Little else came to matter.

“Her priorities were her education and bowling,” Thesier’s father said. “On the local bowling scene, she was often referred to as the ‘Silent Assassin.”

In 2019, as a high school junior, Thesier crossed off of her list the most prestigious individual title in the youth bowling world: the Junior Gold Championship. With it, she earned a spot on Junior Team USA, and the eyes of the sport were set firmly upon her.

“If she didn’t win it, she was always right there at the top,” Barnes said. “[I thought] we’ve got to at least reach out to this kid.”

According to Thesier, it was her who reached out to Vanderbilt first.

“I was reaching out to them before they were allowed to reach back out to me,” Thesier said. “I started giving them my resume when I was 15 or 16.”

It would be another year before Vanderbilt’s coaching staff could start reaching back out to the young prodigy; but, once they could, the connection was instant.

“When you start to talk to her, you realize she has these massive goals and dreams,” Barnes said. “Those are always the kids you want.”

And so, by the age of 17, Thesier wanted Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt wanted Thesier. In the last year before her college enrollment, Thesier continued to rack up youth honors with a victory at the 2020 Teen Masters. Then, at the end of her senior season, came the biggest award of all: the United States Bowling Congress’ Alberta E. Crowe Star of Tomorrow Award. Conferred upon one senior, female athlete each year, it is known as the Heisman trophy of high school bowling.

Thus, over a decade after first picking up a bowling ball, and more than half a decade after setting her goal of playing for Vanderbilt on national television, Thesier had grown from a shy adolescent into the most dominant player in her sport. Not meant to justify mere mortals, a creation myth seeks to capture that which is beyond comprehension; and yet, this act of man — a triumph of the indomitable human spirit — would appear to be just such an incomprehensible outcome.

Thesier’s story was worthy of a creation myth well before she stepped foot on Vanderbilt’s campus. In the four years since, the legend — the living and the written — has only grown.

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About the Contributors
Jayce Pollard
Jayce Pollard, Assistant Sports Specialist
Jayce Pollard (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in public policy and economics and minoring in data science and Spanish. Outside of writing for The Hustler, you can catch Jayce trying to learn the rules of soccer, hating on the Arkansas Razorbacks and being chronically on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected]
Sofia El-Shammaa
Sofia El-Shammaa, Staff Writer and Photographer, Data and Graphics Staffer
Sofia El-Shammaa (‘27) is majoring in political science and communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When they’re not writing or making graphics, you can find them with their cat, Mochi, watching bad movies or reading good books. You can reach them at [email protected].
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