The times had to get better.
It was that simple as Dave Kendziera’s tried to complete his evolution from from Special to Super.
At the 2012 track and field championships state at Eastern Illinois University, the then-junior got his first taste of what super looked like, deciding on the spot that Special was just not good enough.
His return trip in 2013 was a different story. The kid who was once nicknamed by Prospect hurdles coach Brent Pearlman as “Special K” proved to be something really unique.
The Prospect graduate dominated the hurdles events in his senior year, through one of the coldest and wettest springs in recent memory.
So it was only fitting that when Kendziera competed in the state finals of the 110 high hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles two weeks ago, the skies opened up and the temperatures dropped.
His second-place finish in the 110 high hurdles set the stage for what Pearlman would later call “the perfect race.”
“We knew that if he could get over the first couple of hurdles he had a chance,” Pearlman said. “After his start and after he cleared the first hurdle, you could see the explosion. All due respect, but the race was over.”
Kendziera crossed the finish line, breaking his own school record and earning the first state championship in the 300 hurdles in school history. In recognition of his incredible performances during the 2013 season, Kendziera is the Daily Herald’s Northwest male athlete of the year.
“You think about how hard everyone, all the athletes in this area, have worked throughout this season to get better,” Kendziera said. “To be recognized like this is such a tremendous honor. I think of how people will look at me as a leader, as a student and as an athlete, and that they will strive to get better every day.”
The path to this historic season was not the easiest for Kendziera, who recently signed with Illinois to run track next spring.
As a junior, Kendziera started out dominating the local scene in the 110 and 300 hurdles. He was one of the fastest in the area, right behind Conant senior (now Penn freshman) Ben Bowers in both races, but didn’t get the chance to race Bowers until the conference meet.
In the prelims of the 110 hurdles, Kendziera inexplicably false started, sending him out of the race. He would later run the 300 hurdles, placing a distant second to Bowers.
“I just remember coming up to him after he false started and not trying to candy-coat it,” said Prospect coach Mike Kamedula. “I went with the tough-love approach. I think he felt like he let everyone down and I wanted to get him to where we could build from that point.”
One more learning experience came two weeks later at the state meet. Kendziera struggled in both races, finishing 16th in the 110’s and last — 29th — in the 300’s.
“I was really nervous for the prelims my junior year,” Kendziera said. “I knew from that point on I had to get better. I talked with college coaches in the off-season and they told me where I had to be so I set my goals.”
It didn’t take long for those goals to materialize — for Kendziera to go from Special to Super.
“I remember one of our first outdoor meets against Barrington,” Kamedula recalled. “It was cold and rainy and he ran against two of the top Barrington kids. He lost, but I looked at his time and I was blown away.”
Even more impressive was after the race, when Barrington coach Todd Kuklinski approached Kamedula.
“He told me how impressed he was and how he thought Dave could be a state champion,” Kamedula said.
It wasn’t until the final home meet of the season, at the Knights’ Wanner Invitational, that the rest of the state learned what the teams in the Mid-Suburban League already knew.
Those time goals that the college coaches had mentioned to Kendziera as targets were shot down in decisive fashion.
Normally the prelims don’t produce the top times of the night. But Kendziera proceeded to destroy the school record, running 14.23. But he had more work to do. In the finals of the 110 hurdles, he clocked the fastest time in Illinois, his 14.06 loudly announcing his presence to the state stage.
He followed that with a dominant 38.90 in the 300 hurdles and the transformation was complete. Special K was Super Dave.
“Coach Pearlman came up to me after my race and told me he changed my nickname to ‘Super Dave,’ ” Kendziera said. “I was so excited because I was able to hit my goals that night.”
Fast forward one month later and Kendziera was back in the state meet.
“As a sophomore the goal was for him to make it to state,” Pearlman said. “Junior year it was to make the finals and senior year was a state title.”
Though he didn’t accomplish the state title goal in the 110 hurdles, Kendziera still ran second and was in prime position for the final race of his season in the 300 hurdles.
Through the first 10-15 steps of the race it was clear what the outcome would be.
“You just sit there as a fan,” Pearlman said. “You are a coach, of course, but you couldn’t help but be a fan. He ran that race with so much courage, such perfect technique and amazing desire — it was incredible to watch.”
As he crossed the finish line, Kendziera chose to look at the clock instead of raising his hands or pumping his fists.
“He is such an incredible kid from an awesome family,” Kamedula said. “But I kind of wanted him to pump his fists just once, because we all knew how hard he had worked.”
The time that popped up on the clock was a school record — again breaking the mark he had previously set. And whether it has fully sunk in, Kendziera was a state champion.
“It was everything I had hoped it would be — seeing the time, making the goals I had set for myself,” Kendziera said. “But I still don’t think it has hit me just yet.”
And the ‘Super Dave’ Part?
“When coach did that, it put a smile to my face,” he said.
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