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Danielle Hiser and her husband pose with V-C-U mascot Rodney the Ram at their wedding.

Danielle Hiser (B.S.’12/E; B.S.’12/H&S) did not dream of playing the part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s beloved mascot, Rodney the Ram. As a sophomore, her friend dared her to try out. That dare resulted in a 3 ½-year, one-of-a-kind experience for Hiser. As challenging as it was rewarding, she never fails to surprise dinner guests with outrageous tales about her tenure as Rodney. Hiser, who lives and works in Richmond, Virginia, as an occupational therapist, shared some of her fondest memories and takeaways from the experience. 

Why did you decide to attend VCU?

My family moved frequently during my grade school and high school years, including my senior year. I wanted to go to college somewhere that felt like a change, but not too far. I toured VCU and loved the campus. The city was the change I needed, but I was still close to home [in Gloucester, Virginia]. While I attended VCU, I lived on campus and then throughout the city. I eventually moved back to work here; my husband and I both love Richmond.

How did you come to be Rodney the Ram?

It’s an odd story. I was a cheerleader in high school and was considering trying out at VCU. In small print at the bottom of an email about cheerleader tryouts was a message that said Rodney the Ram tryouts were in the same location. I joked with friends about doing it and one friend dared me to try out. I thought it would make for a funny story.

Hiser and her husband pose for a photo with Rodney at their wedding.

I did not realize it was a solo tryout. I was the only female in a group of competitive guys. I didn’t even know I was supposed to have a routine prepared until I got there. 

As I put on the Rodney suit for the tryout, I wondered what I got myself into. I improvised my dance routine, and I remember making the athletic director laugh. When I got the call that I had been chosen to be Rodney I was impressed with myself — and terrified! 

I was told that there hadn’t been a female Rodney in more than 15 years. 

What was the most challenging part of being Rodney?

Especially before VCU went to the Final Four [in 2011], I was left to pound the pavement on my own. The Rodney bags were huge and heavy. They even had ice packs. I would lug them all over the city to parades, weddings, games and local events.

Passersby asked what I was carrying, and I joked that it was a jumbo pizza. 

Event organizers forgot I needed a space to change, to take a break and keep my stuff. A few times Shaka Smart held the door open for me when I was carrying the bags into the Siegel Center. I wonder if he was curious about why I was always carrying such heavy bags.

What was it like being Rodney?

I was treated like a cartoon! Since I was a one-person show and couldn’t talk, I felt like Danielle in the Rodney costume posing with her mom.cartoon, too. I can’t help but laugh when I recall some of the situations I was in: 

  • I was trampled by kids and groomsmen; highly enthusiastic fans grabbed my horns. 
  • Once, I found chocolate ice cream on the Rodney head after I went into the locker room.
  • At a wedding, some of the wedding party grabbed me and the Rodney head completely twisted around and pushed my elastic headband over my eyes. I couldn’t see a thing on the dance floor!
  • Once during a basketball game, some ladies told me very discreetly that my long ponytail was hanging out of the mask. I hid under the bleachers and fixed it. 
  • After a game, I was walking to the locker room with the Rodney suit on, holding the mask. I walked in as the opposing team entered the hallway. We waited for the elevator together, and one of the players asked me if my feet were really that big. Rodney’s shoes are a size 14.  
  •  During a basketball game, I was on the court with the cheerleaders during a timeout. ESPN was filming, and we had to be off the court when the buzzer sounded. When I heard the buzzer, I sprinted off the court and tripped over a cameraman. I was so embarrassed. I hugged him and ran away.  

Although these situations were quite challenging at the time, they make for some hilarious stories!

Are you a sports fan?

I am the ultimate cheerleader. I love going to football and basketball games with friends, but when I am watching sports games at home, I’m in it for the snacks. For me, there is just something more exciting about being at a game.

What was your favorite event to attend as Rodney?

I interned for the Special Olympics during their Over the Edge fundraiser. The event involved local celebrities rappelling off the SunTrust building [in downtown Richmond]. The list of celebrities included local mascots, but not Rodney. In a meeting I asked why Rodney wasn’t included and they joked that he was hard to reach. I told them I could get him there and eventually had to admit that I was Rodney. 

Danielle, as Rodney the Ram, rappels down the side of a building.

Originally, all I had to do was bring the suit for a professional to wear while rappelling down the building for the cameras. As I was teaching the professional how to wear Rodney, he asked if I wanted to do it. I immediately said yes! It was challenging, especially wearing a huge mascot head.

Do you miss being Rodney?

I don’t necessarily miss being Rodney — it was very hard work, and I did it for 3 ½ years. I had a lot of fun as Rodney; I have memories I will never forget. It is almost more fun after you are Rodney, because you can talk about it. While you are Rodney, it’s a secret.

Rodney the Ram on the dancefloor at Danielle's wedding.

I so often tell stories about my time as Rodney to friends and family, that my husband and I surprised our wedding guests with a Rodney appearance. During my speech, I said, “Our wedding wouldn’t be the same without this special guest,” then Rodney came out dancing to “Black and Yellow.”

What impact has Rodney the Ram had on your life?

If you told me in 2009 that trying out as Rodney would change anything about my life now, I would laugh. The experience not only gave me entertaining dinner stories, but I ended up getting jobs because of my experience. While working for Eventful [as a student], I performed as various BonSecours mascots, including Bonnie the Bunny for the children’s hospital. It was a lucrative job as a college student. The opportunity helped me network with amazing people at VCU and in Richmond. Thanks to Rodney, I got internships and my first full-time job at an event company. I wrote about being Rodney in my occupational therapy school application. Being in the suit changed my perspective and made more aware of how I interact with people. I am beyond grateful for the experiences I had as Rodney the Ram.

– Interview conducted by Margaret Corum (B.S.’15/H&S).

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