Borlaug: Iowa Wrestler Who Saved A Billion Lives

Iowa Farm Scene

NCAA Wrestling Championships were held in Des Moines last week; World Food Prize hero Norman Borlaug was part of the conversation.

Published on: March 29, 2013

A farmer I know from northeast Iowa, Jack Hartman, and I were walking along a street in downtown Des Moines last Saturday, headed toward Wells Fargo Arena, where the NCAA 2013 national collegiate wrestling championships were taking place. I hadn't seen Jack in a while. We talked about our kids and families and what they were doing these days and a little about farming. We also talked about how the International Olympic Committee recently announced plans to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport.

It's hard to imagine the Olympics without wrestling -- the sport the Olympic Games were founded upon. Many Iowans are getting involved in an effort to convince the Olympic Committee to preserve wrestling as an Olympic sport. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable are spearheading an Iowa-based campaign to save Olympic wrestling and to try to get the Olympic Committee to change its mind.

FARM BOY FROM IOWA: The NCAA national college wrestling championships were held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines March 21-23, 2013. Many fans who attended walked a few short blocks away and toured the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, where they learned about Norman Borlaug, who was born in 1914, grew up on a farm in Iowa and was a high school and college wrestler. Borlaug went on to become an agricultural scientist and Father of the Green Revolution. He died in 2009.
FARM BOY FROM IOWA: The NCAA national college wrestling championships were held at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines March 21-23, 2013. Many fans who attended walked a few short blocks away and toured the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, where they learned about Norman Borlaug, who was born in 1914, grew up on a farm in Iowa and was a high school and college wrestler. Borlaug went on to become an agricultural scientist and Father of the Green Revolution. He died in 2009.

Jack mentioned a newspaper article he'd read earlier that day about a famous person, also from northeast Iowa, the late Dr. Norman Borlaug and how Borlaug was a wrestler in high school and college.

Norman Borlaug is in the NCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame, as well as the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

Borlaug is the renowned crop scientist and father of the Green Revolution. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his development of "miracle wheat" that improved yields in impoverished areas of the globe. Borlaug, credited with saving a billion lives, was born in 1914 and raised on a farm at Cresco, Iowa. In 1987 he founded the World Food Prize Foundation, now headquartered in Des Moines. Borlaug, by the way, is also enshrined in the NCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Borlaug developed his passion for wrestling at Cresco High School; he then wrestled at the University of Minnesota. He's in the NCAA Wrestling Hall of Fame for accomplishments as a collegiate athlete and also for his extraordinary achievements as a plant pathologist. March 25, 2013 was the 99th birthday of Norman Borlaug, who died in 2009. To help honor Borlaug's birthday when the NCAA wrestling championships were in Des Moines last weekend, the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates held an open house on Saturday, March 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It was free to the public and many people attended -- many of them visitors from out of town. The World Food Prize building is just a few short blocks from Wells Fargo Arena.

Wrestlers and fans of all ages from all over the U.S. visited the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates last weekend in Des Moines

Wrestlers and wrestling fans of all ages from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries were in town to attend the national wrestling championship and many visited the Borlaug Hall of Laureates at the World Food Prize building. The beautifully restored structure is the former Des Moines downtown public library. It is 110 years old and the restoration is magnificent. The building is filled with historical displays and artwork to help tell the story of the World Food Prize and the story of agriculture. Displays honor a number of Iowans who've been instrumental over the years in agriculture and related endeavors and accomplishments in helping feed the world.

Tours were given and the hour-long documentary film about Borlaug, "Freedom from Famine," was shown several times at the open house. For more information about Borlaug, the World Food Prize and hours and days of the week when the Hall of Laureates is open to the public, you can go to the World Food Prize website.

Sport of wrestling taught Borlaug valuable lessons that helped him accomplish great things in his life

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, the current president of the World Food Prize Foundation and friend of Borlaug who knew him well, is proposing that the memory of Norman Borlaug be brought into the effort to preserve Olympic wrestling. Borlaug is held in enormous respect throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, says Quinn. And these are parts of the world where wrestling isn't a popular sport. Likely, there is little support for the sport of wrestling within the Olympic committees of those countries.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

When Borlaug was alive he used to talk about the determination and grit he learned on the mat as a wrestler, says Quinn. Borlaug's high school wrestling coach, Dave Bartelma, constantly told Norman Borlaug and his Cresco High teammates to "never give up." That character trait is one of the things Borlaug learned from wrestling -- the work ethic, persistence and perseverance -- and it carried Borlaug through life as he developed new, high yielding wheat and helped the people of India, Pakistan and Mexico to feed themselves by using better seeds and improved farming practices.

Borlaug is regarded as one of the greatest agricultural scientists and humanitarians in the history of mankind

Quinn says if Borlaug's message could be presented to the International Olympic Committee as well as the Olympic committees of individual countries, an argument could be made that dropping wrestling as an Olympic sport would be an insult and a sign of disrespect to the memory of Norman Borlaug, the man who did so much to ensure that there would be food to feed hundreds of millions of hungry people.

It would be a travesty for the Olympic Committee to drop the sport that taught Borlaug the personal character which enabled him to work hard and persist in his endeavors until he made the scientific discoveries that led to his food production accomplishments. Also, when you tour the Hall of Laureates, you'll learn that Borlaug never gave up as he worked through various obstacles including those that were man-made by governments, bureaucracies and politics.

Hopefully, Quinn and other fans of wrestling and of Norman Borlaug will get their wish and wrestling will be retained as an Olympic Sport. Perhaps, with Quinn's persistence and the help of other people, the message will be presented to the Olympic Committee and they will pay heed to Borlaug's accomplishments as a wrestler who went on with true grit and determination to advance science and alleviate human suffering. Maybe the powers who run the Olympics can be convinced to keep wrestling an Olympic sport as a tribute to the memory of Norman Borlaug—who started out as a farm boy from northeast Iowa and was an athlete who loved the sport of wrestling.