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What Zach Panning and Dakotah Lindwurm Taught us About Potential

If you missed the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials, I actually feel sadness for you. I mean, not a grieving sorrow, but maybe the subtle guilt a rich guy has when they see my teacher's salary. This year's Marathon Trials were incredible; perhaps the most compelling, made-for-TV running drama in recent history.

I listened to the the Citius Magazine webcast as I finished up my high school team's Saturday Long Run and then toggled between the Citius commentary and the Peacock live broadcast.

The Marathon Trials were an example that focusing on records and times doesn't make track more marketable. People crave stories and this race was full of them.

Fiona O'Keeffe did the unthinkable in her debut marathon, dropping a 5:09 mile, Emily Sisson and the rest of the field at Mile 25. The blow-up for the marathon newbie never happened and O'Keeffe ended up looking like a Paris medal contender.

In the men's race, former BYU runners and current training partners Connor Mantz and Clayton Young high-fived in the penultimate miles of the race, knowing they had enough left in the tank to propel them to Paris. The post-race joy of the Olympic-qualifying training partners was palpable.

And then there was Dakotah Lindwurm and Zach Panning, who stole the show.

Dakotah Lindwurm was a walk-on at a small South Dakota college (Northern State) who ran high school times similar to many of the girls we have on our teams:

2:44 in the 800m, 5:35 in the 1600m and 11:56 in the 3200m.

As a senior, she picked up an NCAA II All-American certificate in the 10,000m, running 34:57, good enough for the 128th best college 10,000m time in 2017. The 128th best 10,000m runner isn't necessarily someone you'd predict to make the Olympic team seven years later.

But what's also hard to predict are which runners don't care about previous accolades and decide to train their asses off to see what happens. This is something we've all thought that about one time or another, "What if? What if 'X Athlete' just spent five years running a hundred miles a week? What would happen?"

Well Dakotah did it, and she's now an Olympian.

A snapshot of Dakotah Lindwurm's Strava and endless 100-130 mile weeks.

In 2016, Zach Panning posted this old photo of himself on Twitter. The photo looks like it probably came from a middle school Cross Country race.

Yesterday, this kid clicked off sub-5 mile after sub-5 mile and led the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon for 23 miles.

I love this photo.

How many of us would have seen the potential in Zach as a young runner?

Every year kids that join our teams that don't have experience in sports- let alone running- and maybe they don't look or act the part. Oftentimes we subconsciously assign these kids to categories, "Nice kid, but probably won't ever make the varsity team." I've made this mistake and maybe you have as well.

When I saw this photo that Zach posted on Twitter, it served as a reminder to believe in every kid on my team. Not just for the fact that they might be a good runner someday, but simply because kids should have someone in their corner. And what better person to believe in them than their coach?


Dakotah and Zach steal the show at the Marathon Trials and they offered an important reminder about potential: that we don't know.

The kids that show up on our rosters decided to undertake a sport with little fanfare and lots of work. The best thing we can do for the kids on our team is to believe in them and give them the best coaching we can offer.

And hopefully we can help ignite the fire, because you just never know.

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