By Brian Ojanpa
The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO —
For those unfamiliar with the wrestling prowess of Dan Gable, this perspective might help:
In his native state Iowans had a saying: "Michael Jordan is the Dan Gable of basketball."
Gable, the featured speaker Thursday at an Eide Bailly bankers seminar in North Mankato, lent his own perspectives on what enabled him to become an undefeated three-time Iowa high school state champion, two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State, Olympic gold medalist and 16 NCAA team titles winner as coach at the University of Iowa.
Gable is more storyteller than polished speaker, and his stories are windows to a relentless personal drive forged by toughness and tragedy.
On his grade school principal in Waterloo, Iowa, in the 1950s:
"She had a rubber hose, and she knew how to use it. And it was legal!"
On being punished at home for one of myriad boyhood offenses:
"Mom told me to shovel the driveway. After I was done she said, "There's 12 more driveways on this block. Get going.' "
On his father lining up a summer job for his 16-year-old son to build up his strength:
"He said it wasn't going to be easy. I'd be lugging cement. I learned later that you had to be 18 to legally have that job, and my dad was paying my salary off the books before the boss said to my dad, 'I'll be paying him now. My guys are quitting because they can't keep up with him.' "
Gable's motivation to excel was solidified by horrific tragedy. When he was 15 his older sister was raped and brutally murdered by one of Gable's classmates in the Gable family home.
He said he moved into his sister's room and embraced a singular passion for wrestling as a way to uplift and entertain his shattered family.
He said he's haunted to this day about the what-ifs he might have done to possibly save her life.
Gable was undefeated though high school and until the final match of his college career, when he said his accruing fame took his focus off the task at hand.
He said after losing his last collegiate match he was devastated, so much so that when he went home he couldn't bring himself to speak to his family.
He said his mother fixed that one morning with some needed tough love. She brought him back to reality by cracking him in the mouth.