web featured image

Where Are They Now? An Interview with Payton Otterdahl

A sneak preview of next month’s “Where are they now?” Bison Illustrated issue

Photo provided by Tim Healy Photography

Payton Otterdahl is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever compete at NDSU, regardless of sport. By the time he left Fargo, Otterdahl was a six-time summit league champion, a two-time national champion and the NCAA record holder for the indoor shotput.

His greatness hasn’t stopped since leaving the green and gold. Since graduating in 2019, Otterdahl has been competing full-time as a professional shotputter and has claimed first-place finishes at six meets. However, his most important placing so far was a third-place finish at the Olympic Trials which qualified him for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. At the Olympics, Otterdahl finished 10th.

In this exclusive Bison Illustrated interview, we spoke with Otterdahl over the phone from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska where he trains with former NDSU Throws Coach and current University of Nebraska Head Track & Field Coach Justin St. Clair. We spoke with him about his rehab from his hip labrum surgery, his training, coaching young athletes and more!

How is the recovery going after surgery?

I had the surgery in September, and the rehab has been going really, really well. I’m doing full training now. There are still a few things that I’m easing back into. I still have some lack of mobility in the hip. However, for the most part, I can do everything throwing-wise.

What was the rehab process like for you?

It was challenging. It was challenging feeling like I was kind of falling behind a lot of the people I train with and a lot of the people I’ve competed with, like my brothers who are still training. But, I knew I had to focus on getting healthy first because last year was very difficult to train. It was quite painful on my hips. That was really taking away a lot of what I was able to do. Being able to train pain-free will be worth it in the end. And so far, it’s been great.

Tokyo 2020

In the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Payton Otterdahl finished 10th with a throw of 20.32 meters.

What is the timeline for when that recovery is supposed to be fully completed?

The doctors told me that I’ll be able to compete in May. I’ll be competition-ready, but they said that I’ll be about 90% by then. They said that I won’t be 100% healed until I’m over a year out from the surgery.

We spoke with your brother Trevor, who is still at NDSU, and he had the same surgery. Are the hip issues hereditary?

Yes, they say it is hereditary. They say that you get it from your mother’s side. Our mom didn’t do college athletics, so I don’t think it ever got to the point for her where she had to get surgery, but I would bet that she does have the hip impingements that led to the surgery.

With all three of you brothers competing in the throws at a very high level, was this a family sport? How did you get into throwing?

We came from a basketball family. Both our grandpa and our uncle played in college. We started basketball at a really young age, but my parents always kept us busy with sports and activities year-round. They just put us in every sport that you could be in as a kid and one of the activities they put us in was track. Once I was in middle school, I learned pretty quickly that I don’t like to run. So, I took up throwing and it just came naturally to me. I was winning meets in middle school, throwing the shotput and the discus. Once I got to high school, my brothers saw that I was having success in it and they wanted to have that success, too. So, they just kind of followed in my footsteps a little bit.

Was that your main thing in high school? Was it the sport you enjoyed the most?

It was my main thing because it was what I was best at, but my favorite sport in high school was actually wrestling. But I was better at track & field and I knew I could go further in it, so I stuck with it.

How often are you competing now as a post-collegiate athlete?

I think I do somewhere around 15 meets a year as a pro. This year, I had to take off all of the indoor season because of surgery, but I’ll only be a little bit late to start the outdoor season. It usually starts at the beginning of April. And I know my doctors told me May was when I could return to competition, but I think I’m pretty ahead of schedule here. I’m hoping to open up with the Drake Relays. NDSU is usually there and Nebraska will be there, it’s close to home and a lot of our family will be there. So, I really want to make that my opener.

What has life been like living in Lincoln?

It’s not too different from Fargo. It’s a similar-sized town. It’s kind of isolated and surrounded by rural communities just like Fargo is. I’d say the biggest difference that I’ve noticed is it’s just much warmer here. We still get all four seasons down here, but when you guys get negative temperatures, we’re in the 20s, sometimes higher. It has been great not having to live in the tundra of Fargo.

where are they now an interview with peyton otterdahl 3
Payton Otterdahl and his girlfriend Maddy Nilles, the current Throws Coach at the University of Nebraska, strike a pose for Bison Illustrated in 2020.

Do you have any sort of side job?

I coach high school and middle school kids. I work with kids from all over. We had a camp recently where kids were coming from just outside of Kansas City which is about a three-hour drive. I do some private lessons as well and I have kids coming from all over Nebraska, some driving two hours twice a week.

Do you see yourself mainly coaching once you retire from your professional career?

Yeah, I can see myself doing that. My girlfriend, Maddy Nilles, was also an (NDSU alumna and thrower) and she’s the current Throws Coach at the University of Nebraska. She will be coaching university athletes and I think that that’ll be her main career. So, I’d like to focus more on the high school and younger ages since there aren’t many towns that have two universities that we can both coach at.

What are you spending your time doing when you’re not training?

When the weather’s good, and there’s no snow on the ground, we like to frisbee golf and sometimes play regular golf too, but I’m terrible at it. So, I prefer the Frisbee kind.

One thing that’s kind of unique about me is that I have a ton of pets—probably more than anyone you’ve ever met. I have seven snakes, four geckos, a lizard, a frog and a dog. That’s usually what I’m doing in my free time at home. It relaxes me. I like building their enclosures and making them look really good. That’s what I’m into.

Is that something that you’ve picked up since graduation?

No, that’s something I’ve been into my whole life. Now, I just have money for it. When I was a kid, I would go and catch anything I could outside. Now I don’t catch things from the wild anymore, I just buy them at pet stores.

What did you have while you were in college?

I had a couple of geckos and, in my senior year, I had two snakes.

Do you have a favorite pet?

My dog. I know it’s funny that I have all those, but my dog is the only one that I let sleep in bed with me. My American bully, “Dooby” gets most of my attention.

How long have you been coaching now?

It pretty much started when I graduated. I didn’t do much coaching when I was up in Fargo. There just didn’t seem to be as big of a demand for it. But I did a little bit of it, and then, once I got down here, which was last August, it really seemed to pick up. There are a lot of kids that throw down here who are looking for additional coaching. Most of the time when I’m coaching, people have approached me for it. I didn’t reach out to see if anyone was interested in coaching. Everyone I’m coaching down here has come to me through word of mouth. I don’t promote it.

Has it been pretty rewarding?

Yeah, it’s fun. Seeing the kids when they throw a personal best, they get so happy and I know all about that feeling. It’s just great to see. That’s what’s nice about track & field is that there aren’t limits to how high they can take it. The tape measure is basically endless. As long as they can keep improving, they can keep getting moments like that.

Are there any big meets that you are looking forward to this year?

The big one is the World Athletics Championships. That will be in Budapest, Hungary in August. I have to qualify for that at the USA championships at the beginning of July. To do that, I have to place top-four there in the shotput. It’s basically as big as the Olympics, but it’s only for track & field.

Then the next year, it’s the Olympic Games in Paris, obviously. To get to that, I need to take the top three at the Olympic Trials again.

Did You Know?
Otterdahl is one of seven former Bison to have competed on the Olympic stage. The others are:
Brad Rheingans (1976, Montreal, Greco-Roman heavyweight, USA)
John Morgan (1988, Seoul, GrecoRoman middleweight, USA)
Janet Cobbs (1992, Barcelona, volleyball, USA)
Tamara Brudy (1996, Atlanta, 4x400m relay, Saint Kitts and Nevis)
Amanda Smock (2012, London, triple jump, USA)
Erin Teschuk (2016, Rio, 3000m steeplechase, Canada)

where are they now an interview with peyton otterdahl 1
Otterdahl competing for NDSU in 2018.

Who do you have working with you? Do you have a strength coach and a nutritionist and whatnot?

Well, my coach programs my strength training and then I just follow it. I don’t really have like a team, necessarily. USA Track & Field has nutritionists and sports psychologists available that I’ve talked to before. As far as locally, I have my coach and my training partners and then I do go to a chiropractor pretty regularly. It’s not very big, but we get the job done.

What do you do for active recovery? Do you do yoga or anything like that?

I do yoga occasionally. I take Wednesdays and weekends off from training. I don’t train those days, but I do go out and do something active. I don’t like to just lay around all day. That will make me feel pretty sluggish. I like to go out and get the sweat going a little bit. I’ll do yoga, take my dog for a walk or go and play with him. I also like playing frisbee golf. Basically, I do things that get me moving but won’t tire me out.

What does a regular week of training look like for you?

We train pretty late in the day. We usually train at about 3 p.m. That’s kind of late. So, by the time training starts, you’ve got two to three meals in. We get there at about 2:30 p.m. and warm up. Once, we are warmed up, we train—we throw first and then lift after. By the time that’s done, we’re getting home at around 7:15 p.m., eating another two times before the end of the day and relaxing. I go to bed pretty late, usually around midnight or 1 a.m. Then, it’s the same thing the next day.

Do you have any other personal plans in the works? Any trips or anything like that?

It’s a little early to tell. My offseason is so short. In a regular year, usually, it’s only whatever’s left of September by the time I’m done competing through October, maybe and then by November I’m for sure training again. When I’m not rehabbing, I usually have a month and a half off in a year. When I’m training, I don’t like to travel too much. In March, I’m going to go train in Arkansas with the current shotput world record holder, Ryan Crouser. He and I are good friends. I’ll be going down there for a week to train with him and pick his brain. He’s really big into fishing, as am I being from Minnesota, so we’re going to do a lot of fishing down there as well.

I do like to travel when I have the time though. I usually go on vacation with my girlfriend. I have some high school friends that I’m still close with as well. My family has two cabins in northern Minnesota and those are usually my go-to spots. But now that I live in Nebraska, we’re relatively close to Denver. It’s only a seven-hour drive. We’ll go to Denver at least once a year and do some hiking in the surrounding mountains. We like to go to national parks if we can.

Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to say to the readers of Bison Illustrated?

I just want to thank Bison nation for keeping up with me. You know, I miss Fargo. I miss the people of Fargo more than anything—I don’t miss the cold. I do miss the people in the town and want to thank them for their continued support.

Written by Brady Drake

emcee Cowboy Troy

Catch up with Cowboy Troy, WE FEST emcee

web featured image 1

The Advice That Helped Them Get There: Lauryn Schneider