Grand Forks’ Wong wins Dakota Award
Good athletes leave behind memories. Great athletes leave behind records. Elite athletes leave behind legacies.
Meet University of Nebraska senior Emily Wong, who capped her final season by winning the 2014 AAI award, also known as the Heisman Trophy of gymnastics.
Wong, a native of Grand Forks, is the recipient of the Dakota Award, which is presented annually by the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. The award is given to North Dakota natives who excel in sports outside of the state.
Dan Kendig, Nebraska’s head wrestling coach, summarizes Wong’s impact in a story he shared with the Daily Nebraskan.
Kendig said he recently talked to a former Nebraska assistant who coached Wong for a year.
“When he’s out recruiting, he says, ‘I’m out recruiting for the next Emily Wong,'” Kendig said. “And God, I hope we have more like her. She’s an absolutely amazing young lady, that she can turn a negative like that, or a challenge like that into a positive – it’s amazing.”
The challenge to which Kendig refers is the death of Wong’s father, John, in October at age 57. He died suddenly of a stroke.
Wong returned to Grand Forks when her father was stricken and also stayed for a sister’s wedding.
“I went home for two weeks. … We were still in (gymnastics) preseason and stuff, so it wasn’t that I had to be perfect when I got back,” she said.
While the unexpected loss of her father was overwhelming, Wong said she never considered sitting out the gymnastics season. She was determined to make something of the season in her father’s memory.
“I knew my dad would have wanted me to continue. … I dedicated the season to him and that gave me the motivation to continue this year,” she said.
And what a season it turned out to be. In the regular season she took all-around honors in 10 meets, won 32 event titles and scored a 10.0 in floor exercise.
On the conference level, Wong was named the Big Ten gymnast of the year after claiming five gymnast of the week awards. She was awarded the Big Ten medal of honor and the Big Ten Wayne Duke postgraduate scholarship.
At the NCAA national championships she notched first-team All-American honors by placing fifth in all-around and eighth in floor exercise. She garnered recognition as a second-team All-American in the uneven bars and balance beam. She completed her Nebraska career as an 11-time All-American.
Nebraska placed sixth in the team competition, a finish that Wong said was highly rewarding.
“The team didn’t go to nationals my junior year … so this year the goal was to get the team to nationals. And we got to the Super Six, so that was even more of an accomplishment,” she said.
Wong’s classroom performance has resulted in an array of academic awards. She’s twice been a CoSIDA academic All-American, second team in 2013 and first team this year. She’s been an academic all-conference performer three times, a scholastic All-American three times and a conference distinguished scholar twice.
The AAI award, however, was something special for the much-decorated Wong. Voted on by the nation’s head gymnastics coaches, is based on athleticism, academics and civic responsibility.
She was one of six AAI Award finalists presented at the national championships at Birmingham, Ala, in April.
“I was just happy to be up there with the best college gymnasts,” she said. “It was a complete shock to win. It was humbling and exciting.”
Wong said her gymnastics career has prepared her well for the future. She expects to earn a bachelor’s degree in December and hopes to continue her education in physical therapy.
“I’ve learned character, hard work and discipline during my college gymnastics career. And gymnastics is definitely team-oriented,” she said. “… I know what I need to do to be successful not only in gymnastics but outside gymnastics.”
Wong won her first Dakota Award in 2012, sharing the honor with Colorado basketball player Austin Dufault and Oregon track standout Laura Roesler.
Joining Wong as finalists for the Dakota Award this year were Jess Herauf, Minnesota track, and Roesler. Roesler was the Dakota Award winner in 2013.