Iowa Hawkeyes

Dan Gable in a pandemic: Motivating others, making time for self

Iowa wrestling icon says use your imagination, find things that make you feel good

In April 2012, former University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable strikes the same pose as depicted in a seven-foot sta
In April 2012, former University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable strikes the same pose as depicted in a seven-foot statue of himself outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Gable won fifteen NCAA Championships and 21 Big Ten titles in 21 years as the Hawkeyes' head coach. (The Gazette)

Every so often I feel like I’m shooting nothing but air balls.

Replies to emails don’t show up. A request to get a credential to cover an event gets denied. A story doesn’t pan out.

That was part of last week for me. Then, my cup suddenly runneth over. Dan Gable returned my call last Friday when I needed to hear some Dan Gable.

Elite champion wrestler? Yes. Elite champion wrestling coach? Yes, yes. But Gable has always been far more than an amazing sports resume. He has always been fixated on motivation and motivating, and that hasn’t stopped just because the world has.

“I’m not doing speeches from home,” he said. “I do these things called Cameos.

“People get hold of me. They want me to give them a pep talk. I’ve been doing that for like three months. Before that I was out speaking.”

Cameo is a site where you can arrange personalized messages from celebrities. Thousands of celebs charge their own fixed price to send someone a personalized message. Participants range from Brett Favre to Jennifer Love Hewitt to Chuck Norris to Iowa’s own Tom Arnold.

“Right now people need a little help,” Gable said, “and when they look and are trying to find some, a lot of it goes to people they think are maybe stronger or they’ve been out there in the public eye.


“I’ve done 230 Cameos in the last two or three months. The message is usually a shoutout for a birthday or a shoutout for a kid that’s depressed because he didn’t get to finish his wrestling season or didn’t get to go out for baseball. Each one is something special. It’s a message that is unique to them.”

Gable is holed up at his Johnson County acreage that includes his own backyard cabin with a sauna. I wondered how someone who has been go-go-go for almost all of his 71 years was handling isolation. Better than anyone I’ve talked to in the last two months is the answer.

“For me,” Gable said, “the only thing that’s changed is I’ve got to be a little smarter now. I’ve always been a home guy. When I traveled, I had a mission.

“I’m just as busy all day long now, as much as I want to be. I don’t take away from what I like to do in my life. I really like helping people. But I also need to help myself so I don’t let my mind and body deteriorate.”

Besides his Cameos, and the help sought from him by amateur wrestling organizations as the threat of a shrinking sports landscape looms, Gable said he leans on things that bring him happiness.

One is having some of his 12 grandkids — a 13th is due soon — use his yard as a training area for baseball, football, wrestling or whatever. One of his four daughters and her family live 150 yards from his house, and two other daughters and their families are within a few miles.

The grandkid who wants to return football kickoffs visualizes oncoming tacklers while running. The young wrestler throws a practice dummy around, not a fellow human. The kids do exercises, run sprints, get their grandfather’s voice in their ears.

“I haven’t really missed too many beats here,” Gable said. “I’ve always had a good imagination that has helped me figure out what to do. I’ve been telling other people you’ve got to get your imagination going. There’s a lot of real things you can do. Don’t make it complicated.


“There are other missions in my life I want to get accomplished. You’ve got to have many things to make you feel good, not just one or two or three.

“Your imagination doesn’t have to go very far to just instill some stuff you’ve been delaying or things you’d like to do. You have to kick yourself in the butt and figure it out. That’s what it’s all about.”

But you can pull back as well as push ahead. Gable’s 2020 recipe for fulfillment also includes recharging and enjoying.

“I’m looking out my window right now and I see two deer in my backyard,” he said. “I love wildlife. Just looking at that is meaningful to me. I look out at trees. I’ve got a bunch of trees.

“My wife wants to go out mushroom hunting sometime today. I can’t find those mushrooms, but I like to go out there. There’s stuff that I’m looking forward to all day long.”

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