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Original Issue

Wrestling with Immortality

by Mark Kreidler
HarperCollins, $24.95, 262 pages

THE DREAM of every Iowa high school wrestler has been to win a state title at the Barn, as Veterans Memorial Stadium in Des Moines is affectionately known. In 2005 seniors Dan LeClere and Jay Borschel had a chance to dream even larger: Each could earn his fourth championship, a feat achieved by only 14 wrestlers in 80 years. "A champion rattles a community," Mark Kreidler writes in Four Days to Glory. "A four-timer shakes a state."

The book's principals are easy to root for: LeClere, the 140-pound farmer's son who coped with depression while becoming the first student from tiny North-Linn High to earn a Division I athletic scholarship; and the affable Borschel, a 171-pounder from larger Linn-Mar High who had won titles at 103, 125 and 152 pounds. Kreidler, a former columnist for The Sacramento Bee, is at his best when evoking the wrestling life, a blend of strength, skill, single-mindedness and self-deprivation. At one tournament he notes a T shirt with WRESTLING on the front. On the back: WHAT MEN DO DURING BOYS' BASKETBALL SEASON.

LeClere and Borschel are so dominant, though, that the narrative suffers at times; with little drama to wring from most of their matches, Kriedler must plumb other subjects, such as the legacy of Iowa wrestling icon Dan Gable. The story picks up when the pair finally reach the Barn and bid to become, as Kreidler puts it, "Iowa kings." Whether they get their fourth crowns or not, there's something regal in the purity of their pursuit.