HARTINGTON - Michaela Dendinger is no ordinary athlete and that was easy to see. In high school, most throwers are not sprinters, but Dendinger found herself at State in bout the discus and the 4x100 meter relay. She earned points in both.
Dendinger then missed State her sophomore year, before returning her junior and senior year, capping off her senior year with runner-up finishes in the discus and the shot put.
That was in 2013. The year Dendinger also set the Hartington High School records in discus and shot put.
At that time, Dendinger was looking ahead to her next opportunity at Wayne State, and all that it had to offer. Dendinger continued on to earn two individual national championships, one in shot put in 2017 and the other in the hammer throw in 2018. She also went on to win nine All-American honors while in college, and she remembered every one of them.
“So I have a national championship in the shot put and the hammer,” said Dendinger. “Then, I have four runner up trophies in the weight throw, indoor shot put, discus and the hammer throw. Then, I have a seventh place finish in the shot put, a fifth place finish in the shot put, and a fifth place finish in the discus. Wait, sixth place. Sixth.”
The Hartington native went from a small town thrower that made some noise at the high school state track meet, to a force to be reckoned with in college. Even despite needing to take a medical red shirt because of a surgery her junior year at Wayne.
Dendinger had just finished runner-up in the discus at the 2015 outdoor national championships, and she set a Wayne State record that day. Her foot injury required surgery, and she took a medical redshirt for both the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2016.
She bounced back though. In 2017, she won the shot put national championship, with a throw of 54-9.25 to set a new school record. She also finished second in the hammer throw and sixth in the discus.
Dendinger has been a sponge while at Wayne State, soaking up all of the knowledge around her. Including in the hammer throw, an event she that in high school she did not compete in because Nebraska high schools don’t have it.
“It was definitely a game changer,” said Dendinger. “I knew about the event so I didn’t go in completely blindsided, but going in and throwing two events that you have thrown since junior high and suddenly picking up this other one is definitely different. I, personally, loved the challenge. I loved telling myself I need to pick up this new thing and learn it.”
Dendinger was able to work year round on the hammer throw, and she capitalized on it four years later, winning the national championship in 2018. Her second of two total, and a strong way for her to finish her college career.
When Dendinger came back to do the interview for this story, it was at the Hartington Community Complex, and she said it was the first time she had stepped into the discus circle since she graduated. It brought back some nostalgia and gave a realization of just how far she has come.
“Numbers-wise, obviously a huge improvement,” said Dendinger. “I think my best in high school was 42 feet in the shot put and 150 in the discus and I improved those by quite a bit. Now I’m close 55 in shot a 178 in the disc. Mentally, I definitely feel more confident in my abilities and I just feel more mature.”
Dendinger holds the Hartington High School record in the shot put, with a throw of 42-8.5, and in the discus, with a throw of 151-3.
“It’s pretty surreal thinking that probably the last time I was in that ring I threw it probably 130 feet and that was a good day, and now to see how far I’ve gone is weird,” said Dendinger. “I don’t know a better word for it.”
She has dwarfed those numbers now. Dendinger holds five Wayne State records, three outdoor and two indoor. Dendinger has the indoor shot put and weight throw records, with throws of 54-10.25 and 67-0, respectively. In outdoor, Dendinger holds the shot put, discus and hammer throw records. Her records are 54-9.25 in the shot put, 178-3 in the discus, and 212-3 in the hammer throw.
As far as which event is Dendinger’s favorite, well that question put a big smile on her face and made her laugh.
“I get asked that a lot,” said Dendinger. “I always tell people my favorite is the one that is going furthest that day.”
Dendinger has finished her NCAA career now. She is out of eligibility, so she cannot compete for any colleges or universities, but that does not mean her throwing career is over.
“I am going to try and continue training at USD,” said Dendinger.
She will be attending the University of South Dakota and will be enrolled in their Occupational Therapy program for the next three years. During that time, Dendinger looks to continue training. Dendinger looks to continue to train in her throwing events, sayings that she hopes to make it to compete with the USA Track & Field.
“USA Track would be the goal, but I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch,” said Dendinger.
Dendinger is just feet away from qualifying for USA Track in each of her three events, and the USATF is how American athletes qualify for the Olympics every four years. If Dendinger were to make it to compete with USA Track & Field she would be competing with the premiere athletes from across the country.
Dendinger says that a lot of people have been extremely influential to her over the years, including Jerry Bult, her coach from junior high through high school at Hartington.
“Mr. Bult was a huge part,” said Dendinger. “He was my main coach from junior high all the way through high school, and he never gave up on me which I think is a big thing. I think, high schoolers especially, going into this you can easily get discouraged. There is a lot of components to throwing. I have been throwing since junior high and have not perfected anything; I am still working on so many things.”
As Dendinger continues to work on the technicalities, words of encouragement from numerous people will give her motivation to keep striving ahead.
“There’s a lot of people that have said some good things to me,” said Dendinger. “I guess one thing a lot of people have told me is ‘just work hard and whatever happens, happens. Just give it your best shot.’ That has helped me through some difficult times when things weren’t going right. Just know to try your best and that’s all you can do really.”