For 25 years, Nebraska women’s gymnastics has had one constant variable. The gymnasts come and go, and venues and practice facilities get renovated. Since 1993, only one aspect of the program has remained the same: head coach Dan Kendig.
Kendig has seen countless young women pass through his program and has seen the sport of gymnastics go through many changes. In particular, it’s the athletes who have gone through the most dramatic change.
“The athletes have definitely changed,” Kendig said. “It’s ongoing. In the 90s, you’re coaching 90s athletes, and these are millenials and they are a little different…How you motivate them changes, and that’s the part that I enjoy.”
Evolving is necessary when you have been in gymnastics as long as Kendig has, but he does not seem worried that the sport will pass him by. Rather, he finds enjoyment in the challenge of change.
“The challenge is staying current,” Kendig said. “As I keep getting older, they stay the same. That is a challenge, and I do my best to make that happen.”
Kendig is also optimistic about the direction college women’s gymnastics is heading. He said he is confident that the sport is evolving the way it needs to.
“The sport itself is evolving in a good way, collegiately,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got a great product across the country. Each team is getting better and better. It’s exciting to go to a women’s gymnastics meet.”
Kendig has had no shortage of success during his time at Nebraska, amassing 14 conference championships, two Coach of the Year honors and 19 NCAA appearances, including 11 Super-Six teams. Despite his many successes as a coach, those around him recognize him for his kind-hearted temperament and nurturing personality.
Associate head coach Heather Brink knows Kendig as well as anyone. He was her coach during her tenure as a Nebraska gymnast, where she became a two-time NCAA Champion.
After working with Kendig for so long, Brink has a deep understanding of who Kendig really is.
“He definitely has a heart of gold,” Brink said. “He genuinely wants what’s best for his athletes. He had a lot of patience with me. Instead of leading the way for me, he stood by my side and let me make mistakes, learn from my mistakes, but really never put me down because of those mistakes.”
Brink talked about how Kendig changed her perspective of the sport when she came to Nebraska as a freshman in 1997.
“I came to college after having done the elite program for a good five years,” Brink said. “I really came with some emotional and maturity issues. I had done gymnastics at that point more as a job. Having come to Nebraska, [Kendig] taught me how to love the sport again.”
The love for Kendig does not end with his staff. Senior gymnast Abbie Epperson began her collegiate gymnastics career at Maryland and transferred to Nebraska for her junior and senior years. She is the fourth member of her family to don the Husker colors, as her mother, Lisa (McCrady) Epperson, her father, Mike Epperson and her brother, Austin Epperson, all competed for NU.
Epperson expressed her gratitude and confidence in both Kendig and Brink, as she has known them both her entire life.
“My mom was a gymnast here, so she has known [Brink] and [Kendig] since I was born,” Epperson said. “They’ve been a big influence in my life positively. I am so honored to be coached by him.”
Outside the gym, Kendig has always taken pride in the academic success of his student-athletes.
“Academics are extremely important, especially in our sport,” Kendig said. “When they leave here, it is that degree that they will stand by and use to be successful going forward. That’s why they’re called ‘student-athletes,’ not ‘athletic students.’”
The team has embraced this mindset, as its combined GPA last semester was just below a 3.5. Kendig wants to help his team achieve its goals, which by his own admission, are ambitious.
“This team has some lofty goals,” Kendig said. “They want a bigger GPA than we had the first semester, they want to win the Big Ten [and] they want to win nationals.”
Whether his athletes achieve the goals they have set for themselves or not, one thing will remain constant. Dan Kendig will be by each gymnast’s side, ready and willing to teach them all they need to know.
“Watching the young ladies come in as freshmen and mature in four years and leave as seniors, it’s fun,” Kendig said. “To be able to impress on them how important these years are, to work hard and have no regrets, I think that’s something I enjoy now far more than the beginning.”
Editor's note: This article was updated at 6:49 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, to correct the name of Austin Epperson and mention Mike Epperson as former Nebraska gymnast.