A passionate life

Written by Heather Spangler

Photos by John Richard

Dan Gable’s life is about passion: Passion for his growing family, for promoting wrestling, for exercising and for the outdoors.

“I’m working on my passions every day. That’s all I do: My passions,” he said.

Although he stepped down as assistant wrestling coach this winter, Gable maintains close ties with the team.

In his new role as special assistant to the athletics director in charge of performance enhancement, the legendary coach, who led the Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA titles as a head coach between 1977 and 1997, still makes daily visits to his office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and attends practices.

But much of his energy is now focused on promoting the sport on a larger scale through speaking engagements and lobbying for wrestling to find its way into more mainstream media and on television.

“I’m not wishing I was the coach,” he said. “I work in the same area, it’s just not so much coaching. It’s promoting the sport and making sure what was available for me is available in the future and even stronger.”

Mike Duroe, head wrestling coach at Cornell College in Mount Vernon and former Drake University wrestler, has known Gable since the 1970s, when Duroe would spend summers working out with the Hawkeye wrestling team. He said Gable continues to make a huge impact in his sport.

“He’s out of coaching formally, but he’s not. He’s still a fiery coach. He’s coaching all the time. He coaches me. He coaches (current Iowa coach) Tom Brands. He coaches the people he’s close to,” Duroe said. “He coaches every day of his life.”

Gable, who didn’t allow an opponent to score a single point against him in his gold-medal win at the 1972 Olympics, still wrestles, too ... with smaller opponents.

“The grandsons love to wrestle with him,” his wife, Kathy, said. “They’ll say, ‘Grandpa, let’s wrestle,’ and he’ll lie on the mat and let them crawl all over him and wrestle him.”

Gable, 59, has four daughters — Jenni, Annie, Molly and Mackenzie — and is grandpa to three little boys and one girl all under the age of 5. He said being a grandfather is “outstanding” and “very rewarding.”

“What’s really unbelievable is the expression on their faces when they see you,” he said. “Oh man, is that a good feeling.”

Gable said he sees the grandkids — Gable, Danny, Jake and Elsie — as a second chance to watch his kids grow up.

“Not that I wasn’t there the first time, but I’m definitely a guy that traveled a lot and was gone a lot. This is a second chance. It’s pretty neat,” he said.

Kathy, who met her husband through a mutual friend when she was in high school and he was an Iowa State Cyclone wrestler, remembers the hectic days of balancing raising a family with his busy career. In fact, he had to be pulled out of a press conference the day their first daughter, Jenni, was born.

“It was kind of a crazy way of life, but we all really liked that way of life,” she said.

Now that their children are grown, Gable said he and Kathy feel lucky to have their entire family living in the Iowa City area. They get together for Sunday dinners. And the kids even help Gable stay organized and on top of his busy schedule.

Mike Gavin, Annie’s husband, helps maintain www.dangable.com and negotiates motivational speaking engagements nationwide. Brian Mitchell, Jenni’s husband, helps with financial planning.

Gable said that when he ends his full time work at the University of Iowa, he’ll fill the time with family and visiting his two cabins in northeast Iowa and Minnesota. And, of course, he’ll keep his focus on wrestling and working out.

“Nothing burns out with me. Maybe that’s why I’ve been married to the same gal for 34 years and it’s stronger than ever. And I’ve been working with this sport for 50 years and it’s stronger than ever,” he said. “I’ve got a focus on certain things and it doesn’t deviate too far.”

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