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CEDAR RAPIDS — Daniel Dennis had hoped things would remain the same.
For the most part, the former University of Iowa NCAA finalist who endeared himself to Hawkeye fans with his grounded attitude and relentless motor hasn’t changed. His popularity and schedule, however, is a different story.
Dennis has experienced a swell of fans and support since he continued his comeback by capturing the 125.5-pound freestyle spot at the USA Wrestling Olympic Team Trials in April. Dennis took photographs and signed autographs last week, following his instruction at the Ironman Wrestling Camp at Cedar Rapids Prairie.
Dennis planned to leave Monday, competing in the Grand Prix of Germany on July 2-3.
This summer has consisted of more camp appearances and accommodating more requests for interviews.
“I kind of had an idea that it wasn’t going to be the same, but I didn’t think it would be as overwhelming,” Dennis said. “Having said that, it hasn’t been that awful.
“I don’t think many people have much interest in me, except for a select few. It’s a small group.”
The response by Iowa fans has been overwhelming to Dennis. Strangers have approached Dennis in public just to offer him well-wishes. He said he’s been blown away by fans and that is what makes Iowa City unique.
“I’ll go out for lunch and someone will buy you lunch every now and again,” Dennis said. “It’s always cool. Some random person coming up and say ‘best of luck to you’ and ‘it was so much fun watching you at the trials.’”
People find it easy to relate to Dennis. He has a “regular guy” feel with a refreshing direct approach to just about everything. During a session at the Ironman Camp, Dennis admitted he didn’t do some things well and stressed there are “different ways to skin a cat” when it comes to wrestling.
Dennis said nobody wants to be called out for imperfections. He may have gained respect by openly embracing his own.
“People want to pretend they don’t have faults and they are perfect, a bad ass, pretty or so good at something,” Dennis said. “I have faults. I have a lot of faults. I openly admit the ones that I have. I try to work on them and try to get better.”
He entertained a national wrestling media organization for a short web series, opening up on his life on and off the mat. Dennis doesn’t crave the attention but he realizes it comes with the territory, turning his attention to the Olympic Games.
“We kind of humored a lot of interviews for a while,” Dennis said. “Now, we’re just getting focused and zoned in on what I have ahead of me. It was different. I did it and we’re focusing on Rio, now.”
Dennis competed for Team USA at the World Cup in Los Angeles. He went 2-2 overall. He was leading in both matches he dropped and feeling like he was in control. He will watch those matches and analyze those bouts, devoting effort to change those results.
“I’m more interested in what I learned from my opponents,” said Dennis, noting it was important to be exposed to those wrestlers. “I showed signs of very good, positive things and then I showed a couple lapses that I will have to work out before Rio.”
One thing Dennis has already learned is how to train on the verge of turning 30 in September. His body was beat down, contributing to his decision to step away from the sport and leave Iowa City a couple years ago. He had lost half the strength in his left arm and suffered nerve damage throughout his body.
“I never took a break after college,” Dennis said. “I kept trying to train the same way and it was grind, grind, grind, fight, fight, fight every day and every workout. It’s what made me better but as I get older I can’t do that anymore. I can go through those workouts, but not as much.
“I’m an old dog in this game now. I know that. I have to train a little different.”
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