DUNKERTON -- If it wasn’t for the persistence of a coach who believed in her, Kaitlyn Wilder’s track and field career would have ended in eighth grade.
The avid basketball player from Dunkerton was a freshman looking forward to the upcoming club season when her former junior high basketball coach, Ross Steinbronn, began offering a daily recruiting pitch for her to join his varsity track and field program at the school.
One month after the track season started, Wilder eventually decided to step into the throws ring.
“Ross was really hounding me, and he really thought that I could have a lot of success in throwing,” Wilder recalls. “For a while I started ignoring his texts and calls and then he started texting my mom like, ‘We need to get her out, we need to get her out.’ At that point, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ I ended up loving it.”
Now into her fourth year of competition, Wilder has set Dunkerton’s shot put record by six feet and owns the discus mark by nearly 20 feet. She qualified for the all-class Drake Relays for the first time this season in both events, after placing second in the discus and fourth in the shot put at last year’s Class 1A state meet.
Wilder has transitioned from an athlete reluctant to give the sport a shot into a competitor willing to outwork her opposition in order to find success. After natural strength and athleticism helped her secure a trip to state in both throwing events as a sophomore, Wilder and her coach set out to see how much she could accomplish.
Prior to her junior season, she attended a camp run by Solon’s Brad Wymer -- one of the state’s top youth throws coaches -- and embraced the pursuit of refining her technique. Wilder was often the first person to show up at the track and the last one to leave the weight room during a junior season in which she decided not to play club basketball in order to invest all her energy into track.
After missing the Drake cutoff by one day, Wilder capped that breakthrough junior year by improving at least 10 spots at state in both events to become a two-time placewinner.
A small-school coach who oversaw all of the track and field events prior to adding an assistant this season, Steinbronn admits he initially didn’t have much throws knowledge. Wilder’s desire to find success challenged him to become a better coach.
“Because I had a kid that wanted it so bad, I had to do everything to find the resources to help her succeed," Steinbronn said. "I didn’t want to fail her. It’s been challenging, because you always want to be the best at what you do. She’s a special kid.”
Wilder has further enhanced her technique through knowledge that Steinbronn has acquired from various camps.
“He has notebooks on top of notebooks full of techniques and little notes, just so that every day in practice I’m doing something to get better,” she said.
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Wymer also remains a valuable resource, willing to help critique Wilder's form through video chats.
Determined to build on last year’s success, Wilder continues to push herself this senior season in pursuit of a state title. She’ll lift in the morning and work on technique in track practice that afternoon.
Like a coach studying game tape, Wilder devotes time after meets to analyzing film and comparing her technique to other successful athletes.
“If I have a bad meet, I’ll go home and fix my footwork,” Wilder said. “I think throwing is just about the little things. To see progress pay off in the end is really rewarding. It just gives you a since of accomplishment.”
After marking a career-best 38-feet, 5-inches in the shot put as a junior, Wilder has returned to using a more complex rotational technique instead of a compact glide this season. She’s now averaging 39 feet and has surpassed 41 twice.
Wilder marked 39-11 3/4 for a fourth-place finish at Drake before hitting a personal record 41-7 the following meet. When she was edged by defending 1A state shot put champion Abby Marr of Riceville at last week’s conference meet, Wilder responded by securing her best discus mark of the season and winning an Iowa Star title later that night.
Knowing she’s invested the time necessary to place a state title within her grasp, Wilder is looking forward to the upcoming qualifying and state competitions.
“It would just be amazing to represent my school and to be able to bring back some hardware,” Wilder said. “Not only for me, but for my coach and family. They’ve been really patient with me.”
The oldest of four siblings, Kaitlyn Wilder’s sister Alicia is resilient in her own right -- overcoming two ACL tears to compete in the throws.
“Having her support and being able to throw with her has been really fun,” Kaitlyn Wilder said of her junior sister. “It’s made us bond a lot more.”
Wilder admits she hasn’t been able to pick a favorite sport these past two years of high school. She turned down opportunities to compete in track and field at larger colleges in order to participate in both basketball and track at the University of Dubuque, where she plans to work toward becoming a physical therapist.
“I knew that I wanted to play basketball still,” Wilder said. “I wasn’t ready to give that up yet so I wanted to go somewhere I was able to play both.”