Long before he became White Bear Lake’s greatest wrestler, Donny Longendyke started dreaming about someday wearing the red, white and blue of Team USA.
“I’ve been aiming for the Olympics since fifth grade,” said Longendyke.
The two-time state high school champion and three-time college All-American has not reached that ultimate goal, but did step into a Team USA lineup last month to wrestle in the Pan Am Games.
Longendyke, 27, took home a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling after winning three of four matches at 130 kg (287 pounds) in Guatemala June 27-30.
“The experience was incredible,” he said. “I can’t help but feel disappointed not to bring home a gold medal. But I was glad I was able to represent the USA and be with all those wrestlers.”
Against Central and South American teams, the USA dominated wrestling at Pan Am: Tthe men’s freestyle, folk style, and Greco-Roman teams and the women’s team all captured team golds and most of the individual championships.
Longendyke reached the finals, beating Luis Roman Barrios of Mexico 5-2, Catriel Pehuen Muriel of Argentina 8-4 and Isaque Medeiros Conserva of Brazil 6-1. In the gold medal match, he lost 3-0 to Leo Santana Heredia of Dominican Republic.
The Pan Am team was selected after the Olympic trials in April in Fort Worth, Texas. Longendyke placed fourth among eight wrestlers who qualified for the trials after several elimination events. But the top three pulled out. One needed some time off, one had a U23 age group meet coming up, and one was an Army wrestler who couldn’t get clearance.
That gave Longendyke, 27, the Pam Am slot, albeit with just a week and half to prepare, significantly reducing his normal preparation time.
About the matches he won, he said, “I used a few solid moves that I’ve been developing. I had a couple nice throws. I was not in my best shape but took advantage of opportunities I had when I was on top.”
Longendyke was state Class 3A heavyweight champion for the Bears in 2010 and 2011 as a junior and senior, after a runner-up finish his sophomore year. He is the Bears’ only two-time state champion, their all-time leader with 184 wins, and now their first alum to wear the red, white and blue.
Then at 6 foot 3 inches and 255 lbs, he was also a standout defensive lineman in football, making the Pioneer Press all-metro team. He’s around 285 lbs now.
Longendyke started his college career at Nebraska and posted a 34-10 record with 22 pins in his redshirt season (in tournaments unattached). As a starter in 2012-13, he had a 6-11 record in a partial season, then left Nebraska to transfer to Augsburg, a longtime Division III power.
At Augsburg, he reached the national finals all three seasons with a championship in 2015 and a second place finish as a junior and senior, posting a 109-9 record. He competed in the 2016 Olympic trials while still in college and had a 2-2 record.
“We are busting buttons with every turn Donny makes,” said Craig Nasvik, longtime Bears coach. “This is a big thing for White Bear Lake wrestling. Pan Am Games, Worlds, Olympics, whatever the competition — just to be in the conversation is a great accomplishment.”
While pursuing his wrestling goals after college, Longendyke has worked part-time jobs including catering, serving as a Bears assistant coach and helping out in the school district. He just recently completed his degree in history and is working on his teaching certificate.
He has chosen Greco-Roman style, where there’s no holds below the waist, and features more throws and hand-to-hand wrestling than freestyle.
“I have wrestled all three styles through my career. After several knee injuries, I’m somewhat limited in what I’m able to do, so am a lot more comfortable in Greco-Roman. And there’s a little more opportunity there, too.”
Next quest for Longendyke is trying out for Team USA for the world tournament in September.