For former Hawkeye wrestling coach and gold-medal Olympian Dan Gable, everything in his life comes down to one thing — family.
That family includes his immediate family, as well as many former wrestlers and assistant coaches.
“I measure success now more — and not just whether they’ve won a Big 10 title, whether they’ve won a national championship or an Olympic championship — but I measure my success how they’re doing with their life today,” Gable said during a Southwest Iowa Workforce Summit Dec. 17 at Lakeside Casino where he was the keynote speaker.
One of Gable’s favorite wrestlers he still follows is Greenfield native Mario Galanakis. One time, they were working out together, and Gable had Galanakis pinned.
“He looked up at me and just kind of smiled. I said, ‘What are you smiling at Mario? You’re getting your butt pinned,’” Gable said. “He goes, ‘Oh my gosh, when I was a kid, I dreamt if I was ever going to be able to even be talking to you, and here I am looking at you right now on the mat.’”
Gable added, “It’s pretty amazing what affect you can have on people.”
Gable’s success in wrestling spans the course of 40 years. During his prep and college wrestling career, which was at Iowa State, Gable compiled a record of 181-1.
Gable won an Olympic gold medal at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, without surrendering a single point.
With all of Gable’s success, one might think luck had to play a role somewhere. However, Gable said he doesn’t believe in luck with sports, but he does believe in the role of family.
“I’m lucky because I had a mom and dad that really cared for me,” Gable said. “I had a mom and dad that knew that this kid needed to be put in certain areas. For example, put in sports at a young age or put in the YMCA at a young age to learn a lot of things that were very important for development — socially, mentally, competitively.”
Adversity also played a role in Gable’s life and wrestling successes. On May 31, 1964, Gable’s older sister Diane was raped and murdered in their family home in Waterloo. The rest of the family was away on vacation.
Gable’s sister was 19 at the time. The person who killed her was a 16-year-old neighborhood boy. Gable’s tight-knit family of four turned into a broken family of three.
“I could’ve stopped it because the guy warned me,” Gable said. “I didn’t take it as serious because it was ‘boy talk.’ You know what? That could haunt you. You know what? Instead of haunting, I used it.”
That adversity turned into protectiveness, and Gable said he always reminds his four daughters he is looking out for them. This was especially true when Gable’s daughters were teenagers.
“Even though they don’t want to hear you, they really want to hear you,” Gable said. “That’s the part about caring. That’s the part about positively affecting (people).”
There’s another moment that impacted Gable’s career. It was Gable’s final match his senior year in college when he was competing for the NCAA title and hadn’t lost in years.
Before the match, Gable was doing a television interview, and he said he lost his focus.
“I got beat. But, then, I got good,” Gable said. “Because I started adding — besides hard — smart work. Where do you need to train? Analyzing things. Just using that mentality, knowing that I need to be better in certain situations than I was.”
A controversial time in Gable’s career was when he chose to coach at Iowa instead of Iowa State, his Alma mater. His decision came down to one thing — family.
Gable said Iowa “out recruited” Iowa State by a long way. When it came down to the wire, Gable said he went right to his support systems for guidance.
“They all said Iowa because one side did their homework, and the other side took for granted that ‘his loyalty is here, he’ll just stay here,’” Gable said. “You do not take for granted anything when you really want to get something accomplished. You’ve got to make sure it gets done.”
If Gable counts his success in family, then his success has grown to 19 family members. He said they are his motivation.
“If you need motivation for anything in life, I want to add, don’t look very far. Don’t look very far. It’s right there,” Gable said. “There’s a lot of love around that you can experience. If things aren’t exactly the way you want them, you’ve got to work on that. That’s the real motivator.”