Athletics can take a competitor from the lowest low to the highest high.
In her final year at Tabor College, Kaileigh Dill started the 2021 season by breaking her foot. Through hard work, perseverance, and good timing, she ended her collegiate career in the shot put by becoming Tabor’s first national champion.
According to Tabor’s website, Kaileigh said: “It was a long season, especially battling a broken foot the entire outdoor season. I really had to trust my training that I put in and everything in the (shot put) ring, and hope it worked in my favor.”
Considering she was ranked 19th entering the competition, there was no expectation that she would finish first in the national meet in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
But Kaileigh let loose an arsenal of personal-best throws, including her best throw of 14.47 meters (47′ 1.75”) that won the women’s shot put.
“It was an experience of a lifetime,” said Kaileigh. “It didn’t really hit me until I heard them announce it over the loudspeaker.
“It is really the best way to end my track career and my time at Tabor as the school’s first national champion. I could not have done it without the support of my fiancé, my family, the coaches, and my friends,” said Kayleigh.
Tabor Track Field Coach David Kroeker said Kaileigh’s personal goal was to make the finals at nationals and finish in the top eight, making her an All-American.
“Track and field, like all other athletic competitions, does come down to what you do on the day of the competition, but the individual nature of the sport lends itself to the possibility of variability in performance on any particular day,” said Kroeker.
When Kaileigh set a personal best of 44′ 11” on her first throw in the prelims, both Kaileigh and Kroeker figured she would reach the finals.
“That throw allowed her to relax even more on her second preliminary attempt, and she unleashed the best throw of her life,” said Kroeker. “Both of us were very surprised and elated at the same time. What was probably most exciting for me was the buzz around the ring after her ‘bomb.’ ‘How far was that throw?’ ‘Did she just throw 14m?’ ‘Who was that?’ ‘Where is she from?’”
Two athletes in the competition had actually thrown farther than Kaileigh’s winning throw during the 2021 outdoor season. But no athlete surpassed Kaileigh on the most important day of the season at nationals.
Kaileigh’s title wasn’t the only unexpected story. So too, was Kroeker’s route to become the full-time track and field (T&F) coach at Tabor in 2009. “I wanted to be in charge of something that benefited Tabor,” said Kroeker. “It wasn’t a lifetime goal of mine, but looking back, God knew what was best for me even if I didn’t.
“My coaching philosophy is encapsulated in two Bible verses that are on the back of our team T-shirts every year: 1 Corinthians 9:24-25: ‘Run (jump or throw) in such a way as to get . . . a crown that will last forever.’
“While I love to compete and win, my personal goal is to model a Christian lifestyle, to bring glory to God to get a crown that lasts forever, and to help athletes improve in their event(s),” said Kroeker.
“I think I have two advantages over ‘ball sports.’ First, there are no bench warmers in T&F. Everyone gets to compete every meet in something.
“Secondly, but maybe more importantly, every athlete can set a personal record by accomplishing something that is better than they have ever done before in an event. They can accomplish this even if they aren’t first place in a competition, and there is a lot of joy in that accomplishment.
“Also, T&F is very objective in nature. There is always a time, a distance, or a height to measure oneself against. I take a lot of pleasure in knowing that I helped one of my athletes achieve something that they have never done before,” said Kroeker.
And never before had a Tabor athlete won first at nationals. Congratulations to Kaileigh and Kroeker, ironically both Nebraska natives, for producing a golden storybook ending.