In 2013, Daniel Dennis lived out of a black 1986 Ford F-150 he reportedly bought on Craigslist for $500. The former NCAA All-American had no intention of wrestling competitively again.
On Sunday, he clinched a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.
Dennis, a 29-year-old who came out of a two-year retirement in 2015, beat former University of Iowa teammate Tony Ramos in the U.S. Olympic Trials finals of the freestyle 57kg division.
The triumph fittingly came at Carver-Hawkeye Arena at Iowa City, where Dennis made his name as a two-time All-American.
He was NCAA runner-up in his final collegiate match in 2010, giving up a two-point lead in the final seconds.
By 2013, Dennis quit the sport after failing to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, his battered body no longer wanting to take the punishment.
“Kind of made my way out to California after a long time of not doing much of anything except traveling and [rock] climbing, kind of being a bum a little bit, I guess,” he said.
Dennis didn’t fully disconnect from wrestling while living in a fifth-wheel trailer for two years, after moving out of the pickup truck. He coached for cash and stayed cognizant of the national scene.
Friends and family suggested he test the competitive waters again.
“My mom is a very quiet person,” Dennis said in January. “She’s like, well your dad would’ve really loved to see it.”
Dennis took everyone’s advice.
One competition led to another, and he eventually finished second at the 2015 World Championships Team Trials last June, making him an Olympic team contender.
Dennis believed the time off reinvigorated his body and mind.
“Just going and being uncomfortable, leaning how to be happy and keep going, whatever you have in front of you,” he said.
Now, he lives in a house in Iowa City, according to the Des Moines Register.
“I don’t know that I really, necessarily, when I came back, was like, I’m going to be an Olympian,” Dennis told media Sunday night. “Not saying I’m the best, but I think I can beat everybody as long as I wrestle well and solid.”