Archived Story

Ex-Gopher lineman Kwapinski settles in Fergus Falls

Published 6:17am Monday, January 20, 2014

From growing up in tiny Fort Ransom, N.D. to going to high school in nearby Lisbon, Dan Kwapinski always dreamed of playing in the National Football League.

But he figured out soon after arriving at the University of Minnesota that he would not be able to make that dream come true.

“I was never fast enough or big enough to play d-tackle at the next level,” he said. “It was never something I was really counting on. I was there for an education first.”

Kwapinski played at a level most high school athletes can only fantasize about. During his tenure on the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team from 1999 to 2003, he starting 23 games in a row at one point as a defensive tackle.

But his passion for the medical industry what was really steered him through college. At first, Kapinski wanted to be a physical therapist but got burned out on the field after a few years.

After he received his undergraduate degree in biology in 2003, Kwapinski finished his football career that fall and moved on to pharmacy school, a shot in the dark considering he had never worked in a pharmacy and wasn’t sure he would enjoy the work.

Luckily, he took to it right away.

“It’s a very energetic, fast-paced workday,” he said. “You never have time to look at the clock.”

He graduated from Minnesota’s pharmacy school in 2007 and moved to Fergus Falls with his then-new wife Abbey that same year. He found a job as the pharmacy manager at Thrifty White Pharmacy in Lake Region Hospital, a position he has held ever since.

Moving from the highest level of collegiate athletics to the private sector wasn’t too difficult a transition for Kwapinski. He had a transitional period where he went from being a Gopher to being a full-time pharmacy student, which helped him settle in to his professional job at Thrifty White.

Kwapinski and his family have grown fond of Fergus Falls and he said they have no plans of moving anytime soon.

“I go hunting with my CEO every year,” he said. “There’s not too many big-box pharmacists that can say that.”

“I really like the company I’m with and I don’t really have any plans to go anywhere anytime soon.”

Kwapinski’s passion for Gopher football has not diminished in the decade since leaving the team. He has taught his children Gopher cheers and has taken his family to several games, instilling in them his love of University of Minnesota football.

Despite his passion for the game, Kwapinski has never given much thought to coaching in the area. Players sometimes don’t make the best coaches, he said, and he is unsure if he would be successful in the role.

The team Kwapinski works with each day at Thrifty White is much smaller than his former one: three full-time technicians and himself. He still uses lessons about hard work and overcoming perseverance in his job that he learned from his football career. The game still shapes parts of his life.

He is unsure if he will want it to shape his children’s life, however. The issue of concussions is not a black-and-white one in his mind, but Kwapinski wants to see where the science goes before deciding whether his sons Jaden, 5, or Kellen, 7 months, will be allowed to play.

“It will be a decision we will have to make,” he said. “It’s kind of scary for parents these days.”

So Kwapinski has settled into his career with Thrifty White. He enjoys the small-business, family atmosphere of the company and hopes to work with them for years to come.

He will always remember his time with the Gophers fondly, but he is glad he focused so much on academics in school.

“The people you hear about are the big-time players and the stars who leave for the NFL after two or three years and don’t graduate,” he said. “The vast majority of players aren’t going to the NFL and those players know that.”

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