As he was running for the track and field team at Monona Grove High School, Connor Stevens probably had no idea that one day, his life would be devoted to kitchens and bathrooms.
But, indeed, that’s the way things turned out as he now makes his living at Kohler Company in Kohler as the lead designer on plumbing projects for residential remodels.
After graduating from College of St. Scholastica in 2015 and excelling on the school’s track and field team as a hurdler, relay runner and decathlete, he began his career at a Verona company where he learned about remodeling, custom cabinetry and design. After that, he accepted a position in Denver before returning to Wisconsin to begin work at Kohler.
“My eye for design and knowledge of design software on the computer, paired with my experience in the field doing remodeling couldn’t have prepared me better for my current role,” Stevens said. “I get to use my technical experience and my eye for design to create beautiful spaces in people’s homes.”
Chasing the dream
As a member of the Monona Grove track and field team, Stevens qualified for the state tournament twice (2010-11) in the 300-meter hurdles, and was a seven-time sectional finalist and four-time conference champ. He was also named the team’s MVP and its most outstanding hurdler. Stevens credits track coach Brian Storms and others who helped develop him into a future college athlete.
“Brian became a close family friend through my time at MG, and I couldn’t have asked for a kinder, more dedicated and knowledgeable coach. He had an intensity about him that really resonated with me and made me want to run faster and jump higher,” Stevens said.
During Stevens’ freshman year, senior team captain Kendric Smith became one of his role models and a major influence in Stevens’ decision to become a decathlete at St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Coach Pete Johnson also analyzed Stevens’ technique on the hurdles and provided useful information on how to improve his performance.
Stevens said it was beneficial to attend Monona Grove, which has a long history of athletic excellence.
“Those rainy track meets that went late into the night all in anticipation for the 4x400 relay are some of my favorite high school memories and absolutely influenced my decision in continuing my track career,” he said.
Training for the decathlon in college was a major challenge for Stevens, who had to remain in top shape to perform efficiently in all 10 events. He said the workouts were grueling and put a lot of stress on his body.
“It could be difficult to maintain a body type that was big enough for shot put, light enough for pole vault and flexible enough for 42-inch tall hurdles; all while having enough endurance to run a mile at the end of 2 days of competition,” Stevens said.
His practice sessions were scattered throughout the day. In the morning, he would train for the high jump; after lunch, he would practice throwing the javelin and then in the evening, work on sprints. Because of his involvement in so many events, Stevens was on his own as far as his training schedule and weight room sessions. He said the transition to college was daunting as he was surrounded by athletes who competed as state qualifiers, finalists and champions in high school. Yet, he tried to turn that into a positive.
“Surrounding yourself with people who are better than you is the best way to improve yourself not only in sports but in any aspect of your life,” Stevens said.
The hard work Stevens put in at practice and in the weight room paid off. As a freshman for the Saints, he took third in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2012 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) indoor championship. That same year, he won the heptathlon at the Lake Superior Challenge with 3,994 total points after capturing first in the 60-meter hurdles and the pole vault.
Stevens’ success continued when the outdoor season began, as he competed in his first decathlon and earned a program record 5,076 points to finish 10th at the Falcon Invitational at UW-River Falls.
He also grabbed first in the 400-meter hurdles at the St. Norbert Invitational and won the pole vault in the UMAC tournament.
As a sophomore with the Saints, Stevens was part of the 4 x 200 relay team that won the UMAC indoor championship in 2013. He combined with Michael Naumann, Alex Horoshak and Graham Whiting to win the race with a time of 1:35.02.
Stevens’ success continued for the remainder of his college career. He had three top-10 finishes in the 60-meter high hurdles in his indoor junior year.
With his college education completed and his career on the right track, Stevens is grateful for the opportunities he received at Monona Grove and the College of St. Scholastica. He encourages high school students to get involved in sports and other extra-cirricular activities, and hope for the best.
“I can’t thank the community I grew up in enough for the constant support I always felt,” he said. “I would advise any high school student who’s contemplating going out for a team, or auditioning for that musical to go for it. Take as many chances on things as you can in life and see where it takes you.”