Summer is winding down, and it’s the time of year when we start to think about back-to-school at Little Lake County. But there is another exciting topic on our minds, too. The 2016 Summer Olympics are being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 5th through August 21st. The Olympics hold an intangible mystique in the minds of many Americans; the best of the best–superhero athletes competing against each other in a far and distant land in mythic games. In reality, these are real people; real athletes from real places that have worked for most of their lives to compete in the games.
Lake County will be represented in the 2016 Olympics this year by wrestler Daniel Dennis. Born and raised in the Ingleside area, Daniel currently lives in Iowa City where he trains and coaches. Daniel will be the first person to tell you is is just a real person from a little town, doing something he loves.
In April, Dennis won the U.S. Olympic team trials for Men’s Freestyle wrestling at 57 kg., which earned him the ticket to Rio. But it was “no easy ride,” according to his friend and a former accomplished wrestler, Royce Alger, who is often heard cheering out (loudly) at his matches. Daniel’s journey started in Ingleside which, despite having spent much of the last ten years away, he affectionately still considers home. He started wrestling in second grade for the Lakeland Predators Wrestling Club. He then joined the Big Hollow Warriors wrestling team, where he attended school until moving on to Grant High School. Daniel placed second at State for the Bulldogs his junior and senior year. Despite not winning the two state titles, he was recruited by the University of Iowa, a well-known wrestling school. The leadership at Iowa saw in him what was needed to mold an elite athlete: a grinding work ethic and desire to win. Once again, he took second for the Hawkeyes at Nationals his senior year in 2010. Dennis remained in Iowa for another two years, competing for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.
By the end of the 2012 season, Daniel’s mind wandered elsewhere. He left the competitive wrestling circuit, and Iowa. He headed out West where he road-tripped, rock climbed, and worked odd jobs. Ultimately, he made his way to Windsor, California where he wound up coaching wrestling. While Daniel loved every bit of California, those who believed in his talent never gave up their efforts to get him back into competing. After relentless pestering, he was finally convinced to return to the sport in the summer of 2015 to compete for “one last time.” One year later, after grueling training and intense dedication, Daniel finally won first place. Having seemingly reappeared from nowhere, inherently an underdog, Dennis took for himself what had eluded him several times before: the top spot on the podium. A natural competitor, his finish line moves with each achievement. For now, it is Rio.
When Daniel comes home he stays with his mother, Jane Dennis-Kengott, in his childhood home near Wooster Lake. Daniel grew up riding bikes with the neighborhood kids. When he was a little older he spent much of his time at the Grayslake Skate Park. His childhood was active and spent outdoors. He recalls visiting the local Dog ‘N Suds, his childhood favorite restaurant, with his siblings, Charlie and Melissa. When he had a break in his winter wresting schedule, Daniel enjoyed spending time on a snowboard at Wilmot Mountain. Some weekends were spent on the Chain O’ Lakes with friends, trying his hand at water sports, too. In middle school, Daniel tried climbing at the Libertyville Sports Complex; rock climbing has become a passion for Daniel.
Daniel is very much the same boy that grew up right here in Lake County. He still rides his bike, but today it’s a Harley that he rebuilt with a friend. When he isn’t coaching, wresting, or traveling, he spends his free time here at home. He likes to hang out with his mom and play backgammon or cribbage. When he visits with old friends he chooses local spots, like KC’s Cabin.
I asked Daniel if he had any advice for kids with big dreams of becoming serious athletes, and their parents. His advice is sound, and very wise for a young man without kids of his own. For parents, he said not to apply too much pressure.
Yes, implement good, hard work ethic. But know the difference between those two. Emphasize growth–no kid is the best or a failure. We can all get better and challenge ourselves. A loss or a challenge shows us how to get better.
He wants to remind kids to focus on what is important, but I think his words apply to all of us.
Don’t get distracted or motivated by things that don’t matter or aren’t real. Especially today in our technology/social media/celebrity society. These things aren’t reality. Live in the fundamental, fresh air, raw world.
Once our news is saturated with Olympic updates, the games and the athletes will feel a little more real. Daniel is a hard-working, talented, and devoted athlete that calls Lake County home. He exudes a loyal, fun, and infectious personality. Those of us who grew up here spent much of our childhood the same way as Daniel. Tune in to watch our hometown 57 kg. wrestler representing the USA. Cheer on our local member of the USA Olympic Wresting Team and bring the games home; they’ll feel a little more real.
Watch Freestyle wrestling, 57kg weight class, August 17th – 21st to see
Daniel Dennis compete.
Editor’s note: This piece was co-written by LLC senior writer Holly Garvey & her sister Kirstin Crichton, guest writer and Daniel’s girlfriend. Kirstin will be traveling to Rio with Daniel for the Olympic Games.