David Kornack’s road to the top of the shot put world

The Blugold athlete never saw himself achieving what he did


©2019 Paul Conlin

David Kornack shows off his record-breaking shotput results at NCAA Division III Track and Field Nationals.

Winning National Field Athlete of the Year was not something David Kornack ever envisioned for himself. During his sophomore year of high school, one of his football coaches suggested he try out the shot put, to which Kornack said, “Why not?” He did, but he wasn’t especially exceptional.

After graduating from Edgar High School in Edgar, Wisconsin, the 6-foot-5-inch and 325-pound Kornack went to Division I Illinois State University on a football scholarship. However, things didn’t pan out as expected, and Kornack transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire because of its well-recognized actuarial science program. That’s where his surprise journey to the top of the shot put realm began.

“I didn’t really have any connections to shot put. My dad threw in high school, but that’s it,” Kornack said. “When I got to Eau Claire, I knew they had a strong track and field team, so I figured I might as well try out.”

Kornack knew what he was talking about. The Eau Claire track and field team has finished in the top six in the country for the past eight years. His event, the shot put, is coached by some notable names. Assistant coach Roger Steen held the school record for longest throw, as well as the NCAA Division III nationals record for furthest throw. He also competed at the 2016 Olympic trials.

Assistant coach Paul Conlin has coached 44 NCAA Division III All-Americans, eight national champions and 10 runner-ups. During his own career, Conlin competed at UW-Platteville where he was a 5-time All-American and a 3-time national champion. Success runs deep on the Blugold track and field team. Kornack just never expected himself to be considered an all-time great.

“I wasn’t even a nominee in the Midwest region for field athlete of the year,” Kornack said. “Once I made the throw at nationals though, I knew that might change.”

The throw Kornack spoke about was record-shattering. He threw for 19.83 meters, breaking the national indoor record held by that of his own coach, Steen.

“It’s a little bittersweet, but I’m glad to have helped him along the way,” Steen said. “If anybody is going to beat my record, I want it to be him.”

Now Kornack will forever have his name etched in Blugold shot put history, but it wasn’t an easy accomplishment. Assistant coach Conlin said when Kornack first got on campus, he was struggling to throw over 13 meters routinely. Now, he throws 18 to 19 meters regularly.

“That doesn’t tell the whole story though,” Conlin said. “He’s really grown as a person, athlete and teammate, so it’s been fun to watch.”

Kornack spoke about his development to get to this point. It included daily strength training and throwing practice. Every day, Kornack spends two to three hours throwing, which is about 50 to 60 throws. After that, he spends another two to three hours lifting weights. Besides “being a giant,” as assistant coach Steen put it, he is also very conscious of his flaws.

“He works really hard, and not just in the gym,” Steen said. “He has analyzed and improved his technique a lot. He has a great finish on his throws.”

Although Kornack has engraved his name into the record books, he isn’t done yet. He now has his eyes set on breaking Mike Manders’ all-time NCAA Division III record this coming spring. Manders, who after college went on to have a singing and modeling career, has the farthest throw in any type of meet.

Kornack will first have to recover from a stress fracture in his foot. He has had complications with his foot in the past, as he broke it his first year competing. It’s nothing he hasn’t dealt with before though. Conlin said that to get him ready for outdoor season, they’ll need to manage the number of competitive repetitions they give him at practice.

“We’ll utilize other techniques to provide the same or similar repetitions without putting as much stress on his body,” Conlin said.

If you ask Kornack, just time off his feet should do the trick. If not, his competitive nature will probably be too strong to stop him from sitting anyways.

“I do this because I love competing,” Kornack said. “Competing with myself.”

As Kornack nears graduation, he says he doesn’t plan to pursue a future in shot put. Rather, he’ll get a job and move on in his life, hopefully as a coach. But everything he’s accomplished in his career has lived up to his wildest dreams.

“When he got here, I saw his potential and he didn’t believe in it,” Steen said. “I think he’s bought in now.”