UW-Eau Claire senior thrower David Kornack was nervous as he stepped into the shot put ring of his final indoor track meet. He said he doesn’t normally get this nervous, but this time, things were different.
This was his last chance to break the Division III national indoor meet shot put record of 18.81, held by his coach, Roger Steen. For four years this had been his goal; he even returned to college for a fifth year just to go after Steen’s record. And now, at the Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston, he had one more chance.
“I was warming up really well,” Kornack said. “Better than I ever normally warm up, and on the first throw, I can honestly say I didn’t try to do anything special.”
Typically, shot put throwers just try to set a casual mark on their first throw. Kornack’s goal was to set a solid mark that might win the competition, but head track and field coach Chip Schneider said he wasn’t going for the record.
Kornack set his shot beside his right ear, twirled his 6-foot-5, 325-pound frame around, and released.
“The minute it left his hand, it was special,” assistant coach Paul Conlin said. “You could just tell.”
Kornack’s reaction was different.
“When I saw it land I didn’t believe it at first,” Kornack said. “I thought I miss saw…. I thought it landed in front of the 18-meter line, when I first saw it, so I just kind of stepped out and didn’t say anything.”
Then, he turned to look over at Steen whose arm were raised high in the air.
“You did it!” Steen yelled.
When the final measurement blinked on the scoreboard, Kornack had broken the Division III national meet record by over a meter. The new record: 19.83 meters.
Almost 24 hours earlier, the Division I indoor track meet took place in Birmingham, Alabama. If things had gone differently, Kornack would have finished sixth at the meet for Illinois State, the school where he spent his freshman year of university.
Coming out of Edgar High School in central Wisconsin, Kornack was a three-sport athlete. He starred in track and field, football and basketball.
“I kind of thought about doing track right out of high school, but I wasn’t getting near as much interest as I was in football,” Kornack said. “So, it kind of made it hard to turn away from the offers I was getting for football.”
Kornack accepted a full-ride scholarship to play tight end for the Redbirds. However, that plan quickly changed when the team decided to shift him over to offensive guard during his redshirt freshman year.
“The position move was really the tipping point of me not wanting to do it anymore,” Kornack said. “I didn’t love football as much as I loved track.”
Kornack approached the Illinois State track team about switching sports, but the team couldn’t offer him any sort of significant scholarship. So, Kornack began looking elsewhere. He wanted to focus on his actuarial sciences degree and stumbled upon the UW-Eau Claire program.
“When I clicked on Eau Claire’s page, a pop up came up that they had just won indoor nationals,” Kornack remembered. “I emailed Chip (Schneider), got on with compliance, and just had to try out for the team.”
Competing in Division III means Kornack doesn’t have an athletic scholarship. He says he could have received an academic scholarship had he enrolled at UW-Eau Claire out of high school because he was the valedictorian of his high school. But, once he left the state to play at Illinois State, he gave up that opportunity.
Now, at UW-Eau Claire, he’s focused on pushing himself as far as he can possibly go. He says he loves track because it’s an individualized sport and therefor he can compete against his own bests and take on the top Division I guys from afar.
According to Conlin, that’s what makes Kornack so great. He doesn’t compare himself to his peers within Division III. Rather, he strives to push himself to beat the top Division I talent.
With indoor track and field season coming to a close, the calendar turns to spring and the outdoor track season, where Conlin said that Kornack has some unfinished business to take care of.
The goal for this upcoming season is clear: Take down Mike Manders’ 1983 record of 20.02 meters.
After that, Kornack said he plans on being done with shot put. He doesn’t want to pursue an Olympic career, rather he said he has a job lined up in Stevens Point to work with an insurance company, and if everything goes to plan, he’ll coach at a local high school.
Looking back on his journey, Kornack says he’s happy with the decisions he made. He doesn’t care that he’s not a Division I athlete.
“I don’t regret it for a second,” he said. “My only regret is that I didn’t come here right away.”