When Michaela Dendinger starts her occupational therapy program at the University of South Dakota this fall, she will be unlike most of her classmates.
Despite her training for national events, with her NCAA eligibility gone, she will be the most decorated athlete in many classrooms.
Dendinger is a two-time national champion thrower at Wayne State, with her last national title coming this past spring in the hammer throw, with a toss of 212 feet, 3 inches.
“I never really knew how successful I could be, until later on,” Dendinger said. “But it was always a goal I had in mind.”
That goal seemed to come to a screeching halt early in her career, as a foot injury required surgery and a rigorous rehab routine as Dendinger headed into her junior season.
“It was nerve-wracking, because after surgery you never know what is going to happen,” said Dendinger, who is the 2018 Journal Star state college women's athlete of the year. “I just went to rehab twice a day, worked really hard and was able to bounce back.”
Bounce back she did, as immediately after rehab, Dendinger won her first national championship in the outdoor shot put at the 2017 NCAA Division II Championships.
Dendinger said her time at Wayne State has been special, and it is even more special because of how close to home it is.
She is just 30 minutes down the road from where she grew up in Coleridge.
“Everybody said that was too close and your family will always be there, but I loved it. I was immersed in the community, and just a great track and field program,” she said.
She makes sure to stay a part of the Wayne community as well.
Dendinger is working at a coffee shop this summer, as she has all her summers in Wayne.
“I just like my job, and it is fun to get to know people in the community,” Dendinger said, “Some people know who I am, and tried to stay up with what I was doing at Wayne State. I like that part of it.”
As Dendinger moves forward to Vermillion, South Dakota, this fall to train for the hammer throw, those customers at Miss Molly’s Coffee House in Wayne may have a little more than just a national championship to hope for.
“I’m going into it with an open mind, because OT school will be pretty demanding,” Dendinger said. “I want to just take it as it comes, and my goals are just to keep getting better. The Olympics is a goal, but you just never know.”
She will now look to USD’s throwing coach A.G. Kruger to make that dream become a reality.
“If it’s in the stars to make a world championship team, or an Olympic team, then I just hope to be able to help her make that goal and make that dream,” Kruger said.