Sometimes you have to make the choice to take a leap of faith and trust that you’re ready for whatever is ahead. For former KU golfer, Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, life has been full of those moments.
Rooney had to trust that he was ready to leave Stillwater—and a spot on the Oklahoma State golf team—to come to Kansas. He later had to trust that he was ready to fly a fighter jet solo for the first time. Rooney also had to have faith he was doing the right thing when he took the leap to start the Folds of Honor Foundation.
But how did a childhood dream of a path less traveled lead to all these major moments?
This week on The Jayhawker podcast, we tell the fascinating life story of a Jayhawk golfer, turned fighter pilot, turned multi-million-dollar philanthropist. It’s the tale of a Jayhawk who chases his dreams relentlessly, and has found excellence and impact in every endeavor he’s pursued.
The son of an Oklahoma State professor who grew up knowing the likes of Bill Self, Garth Brooks and numerous famous OSU golfers, it would have been easy for Rooney to stay at home and pursue a college golf career in his own backyard.
“I had the opportunity to walk-on at Oklahoma State,” recalled Rooney. “My parents had kind of this unwritten rule that you needed to leave Stillwater though. I visited a few different places, but then came up to Lawrence and fell in love with the campus and my coach, Ross Randall.”
The journey to Lawrence led to some of Rooney’s most formative years.
He grew tremendously while playing for Randall and even met his wife while studying on Mount Oread. He honed his golf skills enough to briefly play professionally after his KU career was complete, earning money on the mini-tours to put himself through flight school as he started chasing another dream.
After two and half years of studying to be a fighter pilot, Rooney served his country on three combat tours to Iraq. He says his time performing under pressure as a golfer prepared him for the bigger challenges that came next.
“I thought playing at the NCAAs or the US Amateurs, (was pressure),” described Rooney. “Little did I know what real pressure feels like in the skies of Iraq at night dropping bombs in close proximity to the heroes on the ground. But in a very transcendental way, my preparation as a golfer served me so well in the cockpit of a fighter jet because it’s all about managing the pressure and the emotion of the moment.”
While back home between tours, Rooney received the calling to take another leap of faith, this time in raising money for the families of fallen US military servicemen and women. His inspiration came while exiting an airplane that had just transported the body of a fallen soldier. What ensued was the birth of an organization that has had a profound impact on countless families, and a legacy for Rooney – through Folds of Honor – that far exceeds any golf swing he ever took in Lawrence.
On this edition of The Jayhawker, listeners will learn how Rooney started this incredible organization and continues to inspire athletes, soldiers and people of all walks through his inspirational words as an author. It’s a riveting story you won’t want to miss.