Throwback Thursday: Candace Mason Dunback
Aug. 26, 2010
Candace Mason Dunback (Track and Field 1995-99)
Candace Mason Dunback competed in the heptathlon, pentathlon and pole vault during her five-year career at KU. The Nevada, Missouri native graduated in 1999 as a five-time All-American and five time conference champion. She still holds the Kansas records in the heptathlon (5,674 points) and pentathlon (4,053 points). She currently is back on the KU campus as the Director of Traditions with Kansas Athletics, where she oversees the Booth Family Hall of Athletics and the K Club, the association for former letterwinners at KU. Dunback currently lives in Eudora with her two sons, Conor (5) and Caden (18 months), and her husband Chris who teaches and coaches track and field at Mill Valley High School in Shawnee, Kan.
How did you first get started in track and field?
It all started when I was eight-years old with multi-events. I come from a small town and I saw a flyer for a track meet in a nearby town. I asked my mom if I could do it and she said yes. I competed in the event and was actually asked to become part of a team near where my grandparents lived in Neosho (Mo.), so I joined the team and ended up having a lot of success with them. I actually competed with that track club until I was 16.
Growing up in Missouri were you a Mizzou or Kansas fan?
Nevada isn’t too far away from Lawrence, so I basically grew up on the Jayhawk story. It was kind of ironic, but there was a Bushwhacker Museum just two blocks from my house growing up, even with that I always had an appreciation for KU and its rich history.
When it came time to decide where to go to school how did KU become your destination?
When I was 11, I heard Billy Mills speak at the summer national track meet in Provo, Utah. I listened to his story, really connected to it, and then I found out he went to KU. From that point on I identified with him and this University on an emotional level. So during my senior year of high school, I had scholarship offers pretty much from all around the country, Florida, UCLA to name a few, but KU wasn’t really recruiting me that hard. Then, I competed at the Kansas Relays and won four events. After competing, the media asked me where I was going to school the next year and I said I was going to be a Jayhawk. From that point on, the coaches at KU started paying attention to me and I ended up coming to school here.
What did it mean to you to be a Jayhawk student-athlete?
Obviously I am biased, but we just have such a strong tradition here. Being an athlete here in any sport means knowing who came before you, and that was something I was very aware of when I came here. I was also lucky enough to receive a full-ride scholarship, so I also felt an enormous need to give back in other ways to the University for giving me a “free” education. I still and always will bleed blue.
Did you continue to compete following your KU career?
Yes, after I graduated Nike gave me an equipment contract to pole vault for them. Unfortunately my career ended shortly after that because of an injury. My body couldn’t keep up with my mind. It was disappointing because it’s hard to not end your career on your own terms, I still think about it to this day.
What did you do once you completed your track and field career?
I became a coach with the KU team in 2000, the year after I graduated. It was challenging because I was actually coaching teammates of mine from the previous year. The athletes developed a level of respect for me because of the way I carried myself while I was competing and it carried into coaching.
You met your husband Chris while you two were at KU, how did you connect?
Well as a multi-event athlete you become friends with all of the different event groups on the track and field team. Hurdlers, jumpers, throwers and sprinters—you get to spend time with all of them. My husband, Chris Dunback, threw the hammer and the indoor weight for the team and I became good friends with him. After he beat me at a game of horse we started dating and eventually got engaged. I figured if he could beat me at horse he must be an alright guy. We are competitive to say the least.
What do you do in your position as Director of Traditions?
I take care of all aspects of the Hall of Athletics, literally from changing light bulbs, to designing display cases, to maintaining artifacts. I also recently took over the K Club where I keep in touch with former KU athletes and let them know what’s going on with our teams and how they can stay involved. I love my job because I enjoy working with former student-athletes and hearing their stories. My husband jokes with me and says that I have a better history job than he has. He is a high school history teacher and coach. Before, letter winners couldn’t really come back and say, ‘Hey I did make a mark here.’ Now we have a great database that can be accessed via touch screens. It is a work in progress, but it is my personal goal to have every athlete represented in some form or fashion. I can’t tell you how many grown men I’ve seen cry just because they could come back and see we’ve honored their accomplishments in some way. I can’t wait to bring my own kids into the museum and show them pictures of their dad.
What do you see in your future?
A part of me still itches to coach, but since I’ve become a mom that has changed. I have high expectations for myself as a mom and as a wife, my two most important jobs of all. Coaching is a challenge because it’s very intense and very personal. In a way, the athletes that you coach become a family, but that family turns over every four years, the family you go home to is forever.