Dan Gable

Former Iowa State University wrestler and University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable speaks to attendees at the Clinton Community College Tip-off on Wednesday.

The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CLINTON — Few people learn how to become the best. Even fewer learn how to become the best from the best.

But there stood the best, in the center of the Clinton Community College auditorium, appropriately raised on a platform, engulfed by an attentive audience. He rolled up his mustard-colored sleeves and went to work.

Dan Gable, arguably the greatest wrestler ever, amplified his words with the intensity that made him an Olympic gold medalist.

He delivered his message with the swift, tactical precision of his famed takedowns.

“Success doesn't have to mean wins,” Gable said. “You can be successful in the learning process, in the building process, in the changing-a-culture process and still have some losses. You can gain from that, because winning is next, and if you can get to the next level, it equals domination.”

The man named Iowa's top sports figure in the past century provided as advertised during his speech at Wednesday's inaugural Cougars Tip-off event.

“We're excited to bring in someone like Mr. Gable, especially someone who is such a good role model for our students,” Clinton CC president Karen VIckers said. “All of the traits that he exhibits are great to learn from.”

Gable represents a rare breed in the sports realm.

He has reached legendary status as an athlete and a coach.

During his prep and college days at Iowa State University, Gable posted an eye-popping 182-1 combined record. He earned a gold medal in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games without surrendering a point to an opponent.

Gable coached at the University of Iowa from 1977 to '97, achieving a 355-21-5 record and 15 NCAA national championships.

ESPN ranked him No. 16 in its list of the 20th century's top-25 coaches. Gannett News Service labeled him the top wrestler of the 20th century, while in 1996, he was named one of the top 100 U.S. Olympians of all time.

“I'm hoping the athletes come away with a better understanding of how dedicated you have to be to your craft to really achieve at the level he achieved at,” Clinton CC athletic director Joe Shovlain said. “I hope they see how dedicated he really was. For him it was wrestling, but it can be volleyball or basketball or math or science. You have to have a passion for it and then nurture that passion.”

Gable's appearance at the CCC event began a series of five speaking engagements over the next three weeks.

But the speaking marks only part of his motivational crusade.

The Waterloo native has helped produce books, and he's currently working on a feature film with Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Irving, who scribed “The Cider House Rules” and “Simon Burch” in the mid-1990s.

“I influenced a lot of people in my life,” Gable said minutes before his speech. “A lot of them have been in wrestling or sports, but my goal is influence the world, everybody, to give them motivation, inspiration and to help them live a little bit better life.”

When Clinton CC first discussed the Cougar Tip-off event, school administrators composed a list of potential keynote speakers.

Guess who's name topped the list?

“A guy like Dan Gable,” Shovlain said, “how do you not put him as your No. 1 choice?”

Gable touched on several subjects during his 90-minute presentation, all centering on the path to success.

He stressed listening, believing, learning and then applying it all toward a goal.

He spoke honestly about the adversity in his life and how he overcame it: from a fiery story about his lone collegiate defeat, to his mother's cancer recovery, to his sister's shocking murder.

“With adversity, it's either you take it over, or it takes you over,” Gable explained. “And not only in the athletic fields, but in life. That's important, because all of a sudden, when you have to face some of this stuff in family situations, or in your job, or in life, or in tragedy, or in death, you have to be strong.”

Following a short question-and-answer period, the crowd of over 100 gave this heartland legend two standing ovations as he hopped off the center platform.

“Even though a lot of them won't get to be Olympians, it's still interesting to hear about what it takes to get to that level,” Clinton CC basketball coach Marcus Harris said. “If you put in the work, you're going to get a response. That's a huge lesson to learn.”

A lesson learned from the best.

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