Iowa trackster Rickels gaining positive momentum

BY TORK MASON | MAY 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa's Keaton Rickels may have fallen during the 400-meter hurdles at the Drake Relays, but it hasn't seemed to hurt his reputation among his coaches and teammates.

Rickels — who tripped over the second-to-last hurdle of his race in Des Moines last weekend and knocked himself out of what would have been a top-10 finish — didn't come to the Hawkeye track and field team as a heralded recruit. He never won a state championship while competing at Iowa Falls-Alden High and came to Iowa City as a walk-on.

But the Drake Relays aside, the junior has had a coming-out party this season.

Rickels placed fourth in the 600-meters at the Big Ten indoor championships with a time of 1:18.19 minutes — the third-best in school history — and he is now gearing up for the Big Ten outdoor championships on May 11-13.

His rise has come as a surprise to some, including head coach Larry Wieczorek.

"We've always seen a guy [in Rickels] who works hard, but I really don't think we saw [the potential] in him until this year," he said. "All of the sudden, whoa, now you started seeing it."

Wieczorek said a key factor in Rickels' success this season has been what he calls "cockidence."

"You don't want to be cocky, but if you have a mixture of cockiness and confidence, that's a good blend," he said. "The way he bounces around now and the way he attacks a race, he's running with a lot of 'cockidence.' "

Rickels said confidence wasn't always a given, though.

He said a strained hamstring last season put a damper on his morale — he had made some strides prior to the injury — and it took time for him to pick things up again.

"It just kind of got in my head, and it was tough to shake that off," he said.

But he regained that confidence after rededicating himself in his summer workouts and said he came back to campus feeling stronger than ever and ready to race.

Rickels' growth and perseverance over the past few years is something that senior co-captain Erik Sowinski said the team is able draw inspiration from.

"He's shown all the guys that, with hard work, anything's possible," Sowinski said. "You don't have to come to this team being a blue-chip recruit, by any means."

Wieczorek said a common challenge for an unheralded athlete with promise is self-belief. He said the adjustment from being a dominant athlete in high school to being just another good athlete at the college level can be tough at first.

"It takes some perseverance to believe that you can succeed at this level," he said.

The swagger Rickels has gained also manifests itself in his practice attire. He sports bandanas — some of which are neon pink, while an American flag flows on others — nearly every day during his workouts.

It's something not everyone on the team completely understands.

"He and Jordan [Mullen] are kind of their own breed, and they live together," Sowinski said. "I think they feed off each other and are a little goofy in their own sense. They just have fun out here and rock their bandanas."

Rickels said the bandanas serve as a reminder to relax and have fun with everything, because it's supposed to be fun — and that's easy to forget sometimes when he's training hard.

Wieczorek said it's an unusual fashion choice to see on his runners, but he's fine with it — for now.

"As long as he's running well, I'm going to go with it," he said and laughed. "We're cutting him a little slack here."

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