Zach Wendland, NEW Lutheran Track and Field
Parents: Travis and Barbara Wendland
Zach competes in the 300 hurdles, 400 meter, high jump and long jump. This year, he became the first NEW Lutheran high school state track participant. He made it to the finals in the 300 hurdles and 400 meter. He took sixth and made it to the podium in 300 hurdles.
Do you currently, or have you ever played any other sports?
In high school I played soccer and basketball in addition to track and field. When I was much younger, I played baseball. What I think really laid the foundation for my athleticism, however, is the years I spent on the swim team throughout grade school. It gave me endurance and taught me to be intrinsically motivated. It also works all the tiny muscles that are missed in other sports.
What is your favorite part of track and field as a sport?
I love the individual aspect of track. When I’m in the blocks, it’s all on me. I don’t have teammates to help me once the race starts. I put in the work, and now I reap the rewards. Also, coming from a smaller school, it is harder to form successful sports teams. School size does not matter in track. We might not win many meets, but as an individual, I can be just as good as kids from big DI schools with thousands of students.
What is the best piece of advice a coach has given you?
“If you aren’t getting better, you are getting worse.” My varsity basketball coach, Coach Meerstein, always told us this. This is why I give it my all everyday in practice, I eat well, I don’t drink soda. You need to give it your all on and off the track, because if you don’t, you can be sure that the guy passing you did.
When did you realize that it would be possible for you to become the first NEW Lutheran State track participant?
We didn’t have a freshman season due to COVID, but I made it to sectionals both my sophomore and junior year. After falling just short in high jump and 300 hurdles junior year, I knew I had a serious shot at making state my senior year.
Given your performance all season, were you surprised to learn that you are the first NEW Lutheran track participant to qualify for state?
State has been in the back of my mind all season, and I always believed I would make it in something. I really thought that high jump was my best shot. What really made me realize that state was within reach was when I saw my opponent from Peshtigo wearing last year’s state t-shirt with his events listed on the back. He beat me by less than a second that day, and I knew that if he made it last year, I could make it this year. I am not surprised that my season ended at state, but I was shocked that I made it in three events.
How has balancing academics and your sport been different from your freshman year to your senior year?
I’ve never had a problem balancing academics and athletics. No matter what, my homework always got done. As the years went on, I just got more efficient and it became even easier to balance. Junior year second semester was definitely the most difficult to balance, however, because I was taking nine classes in an eight period day. I was taking three dual credit college classes, two of which were online and done primarily at home. Everything after that seemed easy in comparison. It kind of reminded me of seventh and eighth grade when I would go from school to swim practice and then right to basketball practice. I guess I have always been busy. It keeps life fun.
Out of 300 hurdles, 400m, and high jump, which is your favorite and why?
High jump has always been my favorite event, but what is interesting is how throughout the season I started to favor different events based on how I was performing in each event. There was a small stretch where I loved the 400. Right now my favorite is the 300 hurdles. But I think once the dust settles high jump will always be my favorite. It might not be my best event but ask me at any point throughout my high school career and I would have told you that I am a high jumper. I love practicing it and I love competing in it because it lasts longer than a minute.
What has been the most important aspect of your training while preparing for this season?
I really put track on the back burner once the season finished and didn’t focus on it. Instead, I cross train with basketball and soccer. While I am not the best, I love to compete and be a part of a team. I did my best and improved dramatically throughout high school, but on the hard days when practices were killer or I’m just having a bad day I’d tell myself that it’s all making me faster and stronger for track.
What is the most challenging part of your sport?
Everything is in your head. If you are having a bad day, or are nervous and let that get to you, you are not going to perform well. If you are focusing on how cold and rainy it is and how much you don’t want to be competing at Valders, you are going to fail to clear opening height, take last place and get beat by your freshman brother in high jump.
What is one thing that your sport has taught you that you don’t think you would have been able to learn anywhere else?
Don’t dwell on the past. If things don’t go your way you just have to keep moving forward. I set a personal record at one meet at 6’2”, took last place at the next meet because I didn’t clear my starting height of 5’10” and set another PR the following meet at 6’4”. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but every day is a new day and it is what you make it. Just because yesterday was bad, doesn’t mean I need to ruin today too.
Do you have any plans to continue your sport in college? What are your plans for after high school?
This fall I will be attending Concordia University Wisconsin where I will continue to run track. I will be studying in the pre-seminary, which means that after four years of college I would continue my studies for four more years at seminar, after which I would become a pastor. Right now, I am going for an applied theology major and a double minor in theological languages and education.
Are you involved in any other extracurricular activities besides sports?
Besides sports I am very involved in music. I play piano and sing in my church’s praise band which leads the music for worship twice a month. I am also a National Honors Society member and have participated in two school plays and one musical.
Any special summer plans?
My brother and I bought a sailboat together a few months ago which we are excited to get out and start using that now that the track season is over.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Favorite music genre?
If you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you choose and why?
Elephant. Forget a shiny new car. I want to pull up riding a war elephant!