Dan Gable


Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,


A lot of people choose to “go with the flow”. They float downstream, because it’s easier. Because there’s not a lot of risk in being disappointed again, at least not immediately. Average is good enough. Average is safe. 

Half way through 2015 I wasn’t feeling like myself. I wasn’t feeling “bad” – I just wasn’t focused. I was settlinng for average in some areas of my life. Floating downstream isn’t how I’m wired. I like big goals. I like winning. At a minimum – I like trying to win. Really trying. The NO REGRETS kind of trying that I employed as a wrestler, early in my triathlon racing life, and in many ways in 2014.

Sometimes I miss the forearm cramping, busted lip, lonely sleepless misery of weight cutting ,  “hairs on fire” urgency and intensity of my younger days. Cherish your youth, because one day you will look back on even the difficult moments with nostalgia and fondness.

Last year I turned 40 and that motivated me. I turn 41 tomorrow. Its approach has felt a little anti-climactic. 40 was celebrated by trying to prove that I was “still dangerous”. 41 just seemed – maybe a little old. Average. 

Mommy ordered an early birthday present.

A WRESTLING LIFE by my hero Dan Gable.

I met coach Gable in the hot Iowa summer of 1992. I had finished 2nd in the TN state wrestling tournament the February before, losing by 1 point, but feeling like I’d turned a corner as a wrestler. I gained confidence; but maybe not enough.  I still had a lot to learn about winning and losing. Nana and Papaw knew only being in the presence of the great Dan Gable would take me to the next level.

They were right.

That time in Iowa City with Gable, the Brands brothers, the Steiners, and the rest of the great early ’90’s Hawkeye wrestlers transformed me. The experience ranks among the top in my life, even if Nana cried when they left me in the spartan accommodations and the long days to come with the toughest men on the planet; national and world champions hardened by battling each other every day tooth and nail. Like madmen.

It changed me and helped me achieve the biggest goal I’d ever known in my first 18 years. I won the state tournament the following year, mostly because of the support of my parents and my coach, but Gable and his Hawkeyes played a role as well.

So when my new Gable book arrived I immediately began reading it as fast as I could. Soon, I realized I was also simply spending time staring at a now older Coach Gable’s face on the cover. I stared at the photos inside of the book – Gable’s face and eyes. I’d lose minutes at a time starting at the man’s face reflecting upon on his great will to win – more than win, dominate. The book now sits on my desk at work – Gable staring at me during the day when I begin to forget what I’m made of. When 41 feels “old” Gable’s there to kick my butt again and challenge me to push past average and enough.

Among other things Gable taught me that lack of confidence, lack of hard work, and lack of mental toughness are what holds most people back. A lot of people are tough – but not everyone is willing to invest in putting it all together every day.

Every day. Relentless attacking. “I shoot, I score. He shoots, I score,” said Gable. “The more I’m in on his legs, the less he’s in on mine.”

  • Do you believe you will win?
  • Do you work hard enough every day to deserve to win?
  • Do you get stronger when it’s all on the line or fall apart?

Gable and hawkeyes helped me bridge some of those gaps.

Dan Gable won 181 wrestling matches in a row in high school and college – winning state titles and NCAA championships at Iowa State long the way.  He’d never been beaten; until he met Larry Owings in his senior year NCAA championship finals match.

He experienced defeat as a wrestler for the first time in his life (he writes about it in the book).

Certainly, it wasn’t easy. But Gable, whose entire life was built upon hard work and pushing himself over and over to new levels, knew it was a crossroads, and for him, there was only one road to follow.

After all, this is a man whose goal, every day, was to work until he collapsed – a goal he says he still regrets never accomplishing no matter how hard he worked.

He went on the very next week  and subsequent weeks after losing for the first time and won the NCAA all star event, the Iowa State All Star event, and Freestyle national championship. Then he set his eyes on the World Championships and Olympic gold – both of which he won in dominating fashion.

Then he went on to lead the Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA titles as their head coach.

I highlighted this sentence in the book and have spent many of the last few days reflecting upon it:

“I won 181 matches, lost 1, and then got good.”

Two things to learn from Coach Gable’s assessment of the situation he found himself in after losing for the first time:

  1. Failure isn’t the end – it’s the beginning. Let defeat be something that teaches you and drives you.
  2. Always strive to be the absolute best you can be. The man won 181 matches in a row, but in his estimation wasn’t “good” yet. Only you know your limits. Push past them to the “good”.

Tomorrow I’m 41. The list of people who have changed my life is short – I can count them on my fingers. Among them is Dan Gable.

I love you,