Dan Gable coached a championship wrestling program at the University of Iowa. He also won gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics. In high school, he went undefeated from his sophomore to senior year. The only match he lost as a freshman was against a senior teammate. He won a wrestling scholarship to Iowa State University where he won two NCAA titles.
A typical all-American jock story, right? A boy from the Midwest attends the state university then makes a living at the only skill he might possess.
Sounds about right, until it’s learned that when he was a high school sophomore, his older sister was brutally raped and murdered while he and his parents were away.
Gable believed his winning would help his family cope.
“I needed to give them enough entertainment that they didn’t have to look other places,” he said referencing his sister’s murder.
He provided dignity and pride to his family when such virtues were cruelly stolen from them.
What would have become of Gable and his family had he not wrestled cannot be speculated, though he surely would have been a very successful and driven teacher, businessman, scientist, etc.
Fortunately, he did wrestle, thus the world witnessed the manifestation of his drive, pride, skill and integrity. All because of the horrible thing that happened to his family when he was barely a young man.
Sports provides this outlet, for both the athlete and the spectator. The relationship between the two becomes a symbiotic relationship in which both parties are inspired.
Being a sports spectator doesn’t necessarily mean being a fan. One doesn’t have to follow the career of a particular athlete to know that sudden jolt of joy that comes from watching that person succeed in a contest.
Seeing a receiver catch a 40-yard touchdown pass, or a forward fight for a rebound or a runner accelerate to an exciting sprint finish becomes a metaphor for succeeding in the mundane day-to-day. It becomes a symbol of not just coping but pushing through and working up to the utmost of our capabilities.
As corny as it sounds, recalling that Olympic sprint or World Series home run can remind us that most any endeavor undertaken by humans can be accomplished. Realizing the frustration and pain that these athletes work through can be just the remedy for self-doubt.
It could be this very thought that helps us get through finals week, cleaning out and organizing the garage, applying for grad school or acing a job interview.
Wrestling is arguably one of the toughest sports for which to train. It requires hours of both intense cardio (think miles of running) and weight training, as well as hours of drill work to improve technique. Don’t forget the self-deprivation that comes from trying to make a certain weight class. These athletes do all the aforementioned training and then might only consume a salad and a small glass of water.
A wrestling contest is a fascinating thing to watch. Steeped in as much history as foot racing, it harkens back to the ancient Olympics. People have participated in the sport not just for decades, but centuries — in one form or another.
Combine this with the training, and we have the ultimate vehicle for inspiration. Wrestling demonstrates the great fusion that takes place among three virtues: discipline, skill and pride.
In other sports, it’s possible to play well with one of these traits. It seems many people go through youth, high school and college sports and never combine the three. They can perform well in some capacity, but no such athlete will inspire like one who uses all three virtues in the highest possible manifestation.
In wrestling, the only way for an athlete to be a success and inspiration is to combine all three. Granted, good athletes these virtues, but wrestling well requires it. The training is that intense.
For this reason, it’s unfortunate that Fresno State and so many other campuses cancelled and have yet to reinstate their wrestling programs.
Wrestling is an outlet for many young men around the Central Valley. For some, it’s the only sport at which they excel, and the fact that the local university does not offer the program proves a great disadvantage.
Other young men of great athletic caliber in other sports have ample opportunity to go further: to college, to a professional club or the Olympics.
It would behoove this university to reinstate the program. Not only would it provide a great vehicle for both NCAA championships and scholar athletes, it would further the relationship between the campus and the community.
Dan Gable gave the reason when he said, “More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride. Some have wrestled without great skill — none have wrestled without pride.”