The Ultimate Dan Gable Experience for Mark Dollins

Mark Palmer

3/17/2013
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

"I remember watching him wrestle at the '72 Olympics. Even as an eleven-year-old, I was mesmerized by his drive and competitive spirit. I couldn't imagine being so passionate and driven. It was very impactful for me -- I remember that he wasn't scored upon. Even my friends who aren't wrestling fans are impressed by that feat."

Dan Gable and Mark Dollins
Four decades later, the man who cherishes the memory of watching on a little black-and-white TV as Dan Gable dominated his way to a gold medal at the Munich Games recently spent some quality time in the company of his hero ... all thanks to eBay.

Mark Dollins was one of two individuals who won "The Ultimate Dan Gable Experience" online auction, a fundraiser for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa this past December.

It almost didn't happen.

"I had been alerted to the Gable experience auction on eBay," said Dollins, who is now a corporate communications consultant in Connecticut, and a lifelong fan of Dan the Man. "I thought I was playing it cool, waiting 'till the last moment to swoop in with the winning bid. However, there was a glitch, a technical issue on eBay."

"A guy in Wisconsin officially won."

Kyle Klingman of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum confirmed the story, adding, "The original winner was Bryan Koontz from Wisconsin. He brought his twin boys -- both wrestlers -- and Dennis Hall, the 1995 World champion and 1996 Olympic silver medalist. (Mark's wife) Angie contacted us about the possibility of an additional winner."

"We enjoyed the same Gable experience as offered on eBay," said Mark Dollins. "I know that Kyle scrambled to make it happen for us."

"I'm glad it worked out," said Klingman. "I really enjoyed meeting Mark and Angie, and so did Dan."

"Angie likely envisioned a romantic get-away for two with palm trees and white sands. This would be -- uh -- a different kind of weekend trip," Dollins wrote in his "Wandering Yank" blog.

"We caught a flight from New York to Cedar Rapids, via Chicago O'Hare, and arrived to a balmy -8 degrees F. And yes, that was the air temperature, not the wind chill."

Mark and Angie Dollins
So, besides bone-chilling cold, what exactly what did Mark and Angie Dollins experience from the Ultimate Dan Gable Experience?

First stop for the Dollinses was at the Cedar Rapids sports apparel store owned by Mark Ironside, one of the Hawkeyes' mat stars when Gable was head coach at the University of Iowa. According to Mark Dollins, the couple stocked up on black-and-gold wearables.

The Dollinses also received a personal tour of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Gable's hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, conducted by facility director Kyle Klingman.

Also on the itinerary was quality time at the Gable homestead outside Iowa City, spending an hour-and-a-half with the former Iowa State mat champ who, after winning the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics, joined the coaching staff at cross-state rival Iowa as an assistant to then head coach Gary Kurdelmeier [link to InterMat Rewind feature]. When Gable took the helm in the fall of 1976, he built a dynasty that, over the next two decades, included 21 Big Ten team titles, 15 NCAA team championships, 45 individual NCAA titles, and eight Olympians.

Here's how Dollins described the Gable house in his blog:

"His home was warm and comfortable, a lot like any home you'd expect to see in middle America. His wife, Kathy, was cooking for a large crowd expected for a family baptism the next day. But there was nothing middle America about his family room. Above the fireplace on a brick wall were trophies and plaques from his big wins across the globe. They included his Olympic gold medal and awards from the famed Tbilisi wrestling tournaments in what was formerly the Soviet Union. And how many of us have works of art by LeRoy Neiman -- of us -- over our mantles? He looked over many of them, thought about others, and spoke about only a few."

When asked for this interview about what Gable talked about during their private house tour, Dollins replied, "He had so much to share about his career, pointing out awards and telling stories about a particular honor."

"On the stairway down to his wrestling room, he has the yearly Iowa wrestling posters on display. He would point to individual wrestlers in a poster and share specific stories about that guy. He talked a great deal about the relationships he had with the parents of his wrestlers. He also shared about how he cared about his guys and kept watch over them." (As Dollins points out in his blog, "He made the rounds through Iowa City bars at 11 p.m. to ensure his wrestlers were home.")

Dollins described the wrestling room with mats in Iowa school colors of black and gold covering the floor and walls. Addressing the tight confines of the room, Gable told Dollins, "When you wrestle here, there's nowhere to go. It's so small that you can't escape. You just keep wrestling."

One piece of non-wrestling artwork on display at the Gable house that caught Dollins' eye was a neon sign for Mountain Dew. Dollins, who at one time was in corporate communications for Pepsi (makers of Mountain Dew), had to ask Gable about it. His host said he rewards himself with a Dew after his intense daily workout in his well-equipped gym in a barn behind his home.

At the conclusion of the Ultimate Dan Gable Experience, Mark and Angie Dollins took in the Feb. 2 dual meet between Iowa -- then the No. 3 ranked program in the country -- and the defending NCAA team champs, Penn State. The Dollins were part of a sellout crowd of just over 15,000 fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on the University of Iowa campus. It was Angie's first collegiate dual.

"My wife said, 'I didn't know a whole lot about wrestling until hearing fans sitting near us talking about what was going on,'" said Mark Dollins, citing specific examples of how nearby fans would predict what the referee would do seconds before he'd make his call.

"Iowa fans are not only knowledgeable, but passionate. They really understand the intricacies of the sport in a way that fans of other sports don't necessarily share."

"The fans know the discipline that goes into the sport and appreciate it," Dollins added.

Mark Dollins
What did the former high school wrestler who reconnected with the sport about 15 years ago in veteran folkstyle competition say about the overall impact of meeting the man who captured his imagination during the 1972 Olympics and served as an inspiration for the past four decades?

"For me, following the sport as I have all my life, there's one iconic figure for me, and that's Dan Gable," said Dollins.

"I'm not sure there's anyone else quite like him in any other sport in terms of greatness as an athlete and as a coach."

"Gable is a spokesperson and champion for the sport," continued Dollins, who, after a brief stint as a reporter in Auburn, Indiana, has worked in corporate communications for major utilities and top consumer goods companies such as Quaker Oats and Pepsi during his professional career before launching his own consulting business in 2011. "He's all about advancing the image of the sport. The fact he's made himself available to the wrestling community, the media and to the general public makes him all the more special."

"He transcends all aspects of wrestling, from youth to high school to college to Olympics."

Dollins sees Gable's influence in a very personal way that goes beyond a big-picture perspective on what he does to promote the sport.

"I have a passion about wrestling," said Dollins. "The impression I got from Gable is you never stop. That really speaks to me."

"When you spend time with him, and realize all the surgeries he's had, it's incredible to see that he still works out like a fiend. He still lives that never-quit attitude."

Comments

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Gweebach (1) about 1 and a half years ago
Fun article. Good job, Mark.