The image of Dan Gable sitting at a sewing machine makes me smile.
The juxtaposition of Mr. Intensity, Mr. Competitive, Mr. Ironman doing something usually associated with a more genteel crowd is just funny.
For those of you who don’t know who Gable is, the short story is that he is perhaps the best wrestler and wrestling coach of all time. And he’s from Iowa.
He lost only one match during his entire college career at Iowa State University and he went on to win a gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in Munich without surrendering a single point to any opponent. He then coached the University of Iowa wrestling team to 15 NCAA team titles from 1976 to 1997.
In an era in which “legendary” is ascribed to people with dubious connections to the word, Gable, 63, owns it.
His appearance at a sewing machine is part of an Iowa Public Television, or IPTV, special titled “Quilts of Valor” that will debut at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3. The program tells the story of an effort that was begun in 2003 by a service mom in Delaware to make quilts for veterans who had been wounded physically and/or psychologically in the War on Terror.
The effort has now grown into a national nonprofit organization that has so far awarded some 61,458 quilts, including at least one in the Quad-Cities, according to the latest figure on the group’s website, qovf.org.
For part of the Iowa angle to the story, the IPTV producer asked Gable to make a quilt. Cameras show Gable as Alex Anderson, formerly host of HGTV’s “Simply Quilts” program, explains what the “foot” of the sewing machine is and how to make it go forward to create stitches.
Gable, ever the competitor, spends a full eight hours sewing together red, white and blue pieces of material to create a pattern called Split Rail Fence.
The cameras also follow him as he presents his quilt to former Iowa Army National Guard Spc. Dustin Morrison, 21, of New Market, Iowa.
Morrison was wounded April 11, 2011, in Afghanistan when the mine-resistant vehicle in which he was riding hit an improvised explosive device. The vehicle’s gunner was killed and two others were injured. Morrison’s injuries — particularly to his lungs — were so severe that he was not expected to survive.
But survive he did.
“He had to fight for his life. … and I think that will is really important,” Gable says, in making the presentation. “I am glad to be able to present a piece of comfort to a young man that stood up for his country.”
Gable had wanted his quilt to go to a wrestler and Morrison wrestled in high school. The presentation was made in a locker room at Iowa State before a wrestling meet that Gable was covering for IPTV. Also in the room were some of Morrison’s friends and teammates as well as one of his wrestling coaches.
The show is narrated by Marianne Fons, the host of IPTV’s “Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting,” the most-watched quilting show in the country.
She interviews Catherine Roberts, the mom who founded Quilts of Valor when her son was being deployed to Iraq, who now lives in Washington and is the group’s executive director.
The show also follows Minnesota quilters on a bus trip to Texas to deliver more than 1,000 quilts to combat veterans at Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston.
To me, though, Gable is the most interesting person to watch.
“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold,” he once said. “They’re made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.”
Gable has them. He even has the guts to sew.
But then as he also has said, “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”