How murder and death shaped Sara McMann

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When Dan Gable was 15 years old, unspeakable tragedy was visited upon his family – his sister was raped and killed in the family home in Waterloo, Iowa. The moment could have destroyed the young man, but in the end, he emerged immeasurably strengthened.

“I’ve had a lot of success in my life and I’d have to go back and think that point in time had a lot to do it,” said Gable in a 2012 interview. “It’s hard for most people to comprehend.”

Another Olympic medalist in wrestling has likewise suffered immense tragedy in her life, and has turned it into strength.

Marc Raimondi writing for Fox Sports sat down with Sara McMann ahead of her fight with Ronda Rousey on Feb. 22 at UFC 17, and visited two tragic chapters in the fighter’s life.

When Sara McMann was 16 years old, her brother was beaten unconscious by a football player, driven to a remote area, beaten with a gun and a large stick, and left to die. His body was not found for three months.

“Emotionally, it’s the equivalent of losing a limb,” McMann told Raimondi. “You never have that limb back. You’re never the same person.”

In 2004 McMann won a silver medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. That September she was driving in Colorado, with her boyfriend Steve Blackford in the passenger seat, when the vehicle overturned, killing him.

“I think it helps me define the life I want to live and what I want, just being exposed to mortality,” said McMann. “It also helps me prioritize. Part of the lack of desire for money and fame is the desire to spend as much time with my family as possible, creating the memories that really matter to you. People on their death bed don’t say I wish I had more money and fame.”

“I think when bad things happen like that, [feeling sorry for yourself] is probably the first thing that goes to our head. I had to kind of open my eyes and look around and say, ?Holy s—, tons of people experience this’. It actually is more the rule of thumb, super painful things and suffering. The white picket fence, 2.5 kids and mini van – that is far from the truth.”

McMann has not just endured, she has soared. She has performs a wide variety fo charitable efforts, has a daughter Bella with her partner Trent Goodale, head wrestling coach at SC’s Limestone College, and next month could become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

“In all of this my brother and Steve would never ever want me to be unhappy the rest of my life because of the circumstances,” said McMann.

The pain will never leave either Gable or McMann. Her brother’s murderer was convicted and will die in jail. When the man who murdered Dan Gable’s sister died in 2011, it brought back only an intense wave of grief.

“It’s not ever going to be perfect,” said Gable. “There’s not a perfect path.”

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”