May 12, 2010
By Larry Watts
There are times when Dan Rolling wakes up in the morning and wonders if he is ready to draw Social Security.
"It's been a battle," says the University of Iowa fifth-year senior. "I know it sounds like an old man, but I've only been able to complete in two heptathlons and one decathlon since I have arrived here."
The Milford, Iowa native's series of aches and pains started soon after the state high jump champion arrived in Iowa City for his freshman year. While playing a pickup basketball game, he tore the ACL in his right knee (his jumping leg). From there it has been a series of hamstring issues, tendinitis in the knees and ankles as well as shoulder problems.
"It's been kind of a rollercoaster ride," he says. "I guess if this were easy everybody would do it. Luckily, I was able to compete last year."
For the most part, he went through the 2009 season unscathed. However, after the first day of action in the pentathlon at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, the flu and a 102.8 temperature got the best of him and he was forced to withdraw. He came back in the outdoor season to take fifth in the decathlon at the Big Ten Championships with a score of 6,811 points, third best in school history.
Rolling was a multi-sport standout in football, basketball and track at Okoboji High School. Basketball was the No. 1 choice for the all-conference honoree, but things never panned out on the recruiting front, so he focused on football and track for his collegiate career.
"I had some opportunities to go play football, but when Iowa and Northern Iowa came after me for track, I figured the bigger schools would help me perform at the highest level," he says. "I loved playing the games in football, but I hated the practices."
Rolling won the state high school high jump championship in his senior year when he cleared 6-foot-9. He also competed on the runner-up sprint medley and fifth place 1,600 relay squads. During his sophomore season, he helped Okoboji win state titles in both the 400 and 800-meter relays.
"On my recruiting trip to Iowa, (assistant coach) Scott Cappos first brought up the idea of doing the heptathlon and decathlon because he knew I had done a lot of running," Rolling says. "The idea of going to a meet, riding 11 hours on the bus, and just doing the high jump wasn't appealing. If I did poorly, I would have the rest of the time to think about it. But with multiple events, if I didn't do well in one event, I could use that aggression to attack another event."
However, the ACL injury in his first week of school put everything on the backburner for a year.
"Since I was headed for multi events, I guess it all worked out for the better," he says. "It was a killer not to compete, but I was able to watch and study some of the events."
Dabbling in the sprints and shot put, Rolling focused mainly on the high jump when he returned in his sophomore year. He posted a best of 6-8 indoors and went 6-6 outdoors at the Big Ten Championships, three inches less than he did in high school.
"It took awhile to get back to that height at Iowa," he says. "I don't feel as though I have quite as much pop in that leg as I used to, but I think I'm stronger and know techniques better. I did a 6-8 at the instrasquad meet the first year back, but I was pretty nervous and anxious to start competing again."
Rolling finally cleared 6-11 during the indoor season of his junior year, once at Iowa State and the second time when he took third at the Big Ten Championships. He also competed in his first heptathlon during an invitational at Northern Iowa.
"That first time I did 6-11 was pretty exciting because there were some pretty big jumpers at Iowa State that day," he says. "I came real close to making 7-1 on the first try. I was way over the bar and clipped it with my heel on the way down. I have it on tape, but I can't watch the video. I had it in my hands and let it drop."
But when forced to make a choice between clearing the 7-foot barrier and making the NCAA Championships for the first time, Rolling makes it clear he would prefer the latter.
"It's a tough choice, but I would have to go with the NCAA meet because I want to represent my school and extend my season as long as possible," he says. "But knock on wood, maybe I can do both."
Last year was basically Rolling's coming-out party in multi events. Before becoming sick at the Big Ten Indoor Championships, he scored 4,909 points (second in Iowa history) in the heptathlon at the Jack Jennet Invite, where he also hit a season-best 6-10 in the high jump. Then he came back to take fifth outdoors in the Big Ten decathlon while posting personal bests in six events. He won the 400 (49.68) and took seconds in the 100 and 1500.
"Since I took fifth in the decathlon, I think more people around the Big Ten know about me," he says. "Other than those who had been doubling up in the high jump, this was first time some of the other competitors got to see me."
According to the fifth-year senior, he has been especially surprised at how well he has done in the 1500.
"I have always been pretty good at running events, but I had never done the 1500 before I got here," he says. "When I first started, I was God awful in the hurdles and pole vault, but they have been pretty good to me lately after putting in a lot of work during the summers.
"This was my first exposure to the throwing events (shot put and javelin). I've been having my ups and downs with the shot, but (former Hawkeye) John Hickey has been coming out and helping me a lot. I love doing the javelin even though it hurts my shoulder, elbow and back. I just go out there and chuck it."
Rolling graduated last May with a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography. He is currently working on majors in informatics (computer science) and health science.
"I want to go to grad school to become a medical illustrator," he says. "I have always loved art, but I didn't really know if I wanted to be an artist when I came to Iowa. Originally, I was into drawing and painting and that's my minor emphasis, but when a friend told me about being a medical illustrator I got really interested."
Rolling likes the idea of taking a camera to some of the meets but admits it would be tough to find the time to take pictures.
"Since I'm running from event to event, I never have enough time," he says. "I do try to take some pictures away from the field, like at the hotel or on the bus. I really enjoy doing portrait work."
Rolling's current year has got off to a slow start once again. He had been on the shelf for a month during the indoor season after suffering a hamstring injury while running the hurdles during the season opener against Illinois. He has rebounded though and posted a season best 6,957 in the decathlon at the Drake Relays.