Rahn trades knee pads for oars, commits to Iowa
Stroke of fate
Memo to anyone who made fun of Jenn Rahn for already being 6-foot-1 when she was 13 years old: Who's laughing now?
Thanks to her frame, athleticism and a tough but quick decision, the Sterling High School senior is taking her unique talents to Iowa City, where she's made a verbal commitment to join the rowing team at the University of Iowa.
Rahn quit basketball when she got to high school and her traveling softball team after her freshman year, in order to focus on volleyball and earn an athletic scholarship.
"Earning my way to a college with a sport was very important to me," Rahn said.
On Oct. 11, after the Golden Warriors swept the Dixon Duchesses at Musgrove Fieldhouse on Senior night, Rahn and her mother, Gretchen, were buckled up and ready to scout one of many schools that was recruiting the middle hitter – the University of North Dakota.
But just before they set out on the 11-hour trek, Jenn got a phone call from Iowa assistant coach Beth Redfearn.
"She looked over to me and was mouthing to me that it wasn't about volleyball," Gretchen said.
"I couldn't take it seriously at first," Jenn said. "I thought it was kind of a joke."
Just the same, with a Big Ten university expressing its interest, they decided to stay put. Minutes later, an email arrived from Redfearn, expressing that the Hawkeyes were looking for big-framed, mentally tough kids who could help build a national champion.
The itinerary changed.
At 6 a.m. the next morning, the Rahns hit the road for Iowa City for an unofficial visit. Jenn was immediately hooked.
"I absolutely loved the school," she said. "The people are awesome. The coaches are exactly what I'd look for in someone who's going to be with me for the next 4 years and train me as a person."
The Hawkeyes' new head coach is Steve Pritzker, who won two national titles in the past three seasons with the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers are the defending NCAA champs and won eight ACC titles during his nine seasons on the staff.
"He and Jenn couldn't have been more on the same page," Gretchen said.
Nonetheless, the decision wasn't easy, considering Rahn's commitment to volleyball. It took a lot of prayer and research before she made her commitment.
"My faith is huge, and I trusted God the whole time that I was going to go where I needed to, to fulfill my life and dreams and to follow His path," Rahn said.
The prospect of her daughter receiving a Big Ten education – Rahn plans to study biology and athletic training – made Gretchen weak in the knees.
"We were ecstatic," Gretchen said. "It's probably an opportunity we'd never dreamed of."
Rahn quickly learned that many athletes – including DeKalb natives Grant and Ross James, the twins who helped the U.S. to a fourth-place finish in the London Olympics – hadn't gotten into a "shell" or heard of an "engine room" until college.
And she found it more than coincidental that she spent an inordinate amount of time watching rowing this past summer.
"I actually watched it a lot more than usual," Rahn said. "As long as you're athletic, you can pick up things and you work hard. It's about being strong and having rhythm."
She also loved the prospect of a sport that she could "do forever."
"It uses your whole body the way it was made and mechanically the way it's supposed to work," Rahn said. "so the injury rates are incredibly low. Long term, my body will be better than if I played volleyball, softball, or any other sport."
Mentally and physically, she's built for enormous success in rowing. Those same traits made for a trying childhood.
"Honestly, I've struggled with my height for a long time," Rahn said. "Obviously, it's abnormal, and people have made fun of me. Everyone has their jokes. This was my security, knowing that I was made this way for a reason, and that it's going to get me places."
"We spent a lot of hours talking about how she has a plan and a purpose for her life and that she was made that way for a reason," Gretchen Rahn said. "The last couple of years, she's really embraced it. And when Iowa reached out, I told her, 'There's a plan for you, and you just found out what it is.' "
Such great heights
Heights of members of Rahn family
Dad: Paul, 6-foot. Mom: Gretchen, 5-8. Brothers: James, 15 years old, 6-2; John, 12, 5-8. Sister: Jessica, 14, 5-10