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The Koll connection

Lisa Uhl was an NCAA champion and Olympian, but her story isn’t unique to the family — or Fort Dodge

AP File Photo Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Lisa (Koll) Uhl waves to her family in Des Moines during a welcome-home ceremony after the 2012 Olympics.

Last week, we published an article about Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Lisa (Koll) Uhl’s pending Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame induction.

We also decided to dedicate our “throwback” picture that day to one of Lisa’s relatives, fellow former Dodger and wrestling legend Bill Koll.

I quickly began to realize — through texts, calls and emails — just how many of our readers didn’t make the connection between Lisa and Bill, and also, were unfamiliar with Bill’s Fort Dodge roots.

As such, it’s time for a history lesson.

We all know Lisa’s inspiring script. A standout distance runner in both cross country and track at FDSH, Lisa admittedly joined the Iowa State programs without many lofty personal expectations after leaving Fort Dodge in 2005.

Submitted Photo Bill Koll works his way toward his third and final NCAA wrestling title in 1948 while competing for Iowa State Teachers College (later the University of Northern Iowa). Koll is a 1941 Fort Dodge graduate.

A meteoric rise to national prominence followed. Lisa transformed herself from a high school athlete who graduated without a single state title into a four-time NCAA national champion for the Cyclones. The 11-time All-American and former Big 12 female athlete of the year established a new collegiate record in the 10,000-meter run in 2010, clocking a time of 31:18.07 that still stands a decade later.

Lisa later competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, placing 13th in the 10,000 for the United States with a 31:12.80.

Her narrative seems almost mythical in retrospect now, and definitely places her among the all-time greats to have once roamed the halls at FDSH. Lisa’s not alone even in her own family tree, though. Bill Koll — a first cousin of Lisa’s grandfather, Joseph — followed a strikingly similar path from unknown to superstardom some 70 years prior.

In 1939, Bill was a Dodger wrestler struggling to stay afloat at the varsity level. He weighed less than 80 pounds as a sophomore, and didn’t win a single match.

Bill went through a huge growth spurt as an upperclassman, though, and captured a 1941 state title for Fort Dodge High School at 135 pounds. His sharp ascension continued at Iowa State Teachers College — now the University of Northern Iowa — as Bill became a three-time NCAA national gold medalist in Cedar Falls.

Bill’s collegiate career didn’t begin until 1946, as tour of duty in the Army for World War II came first. He was a combat engineer who served three full years in Europe, and was one of the first to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day — June 6, 1944.

After receiving a Bronze Star, Bill returned to Cedar Falls in the winter of 1945. A few months later, he captured a national title as a sophomore at 145 pounds. He would repeat as a champ in 1947, and again in ’48.

In the summer of 1948, Bill represented the United States at the Olympic Games in — you guessed it — London, where Lisa would run 64 years later.

Bill’s wrestling journey was far from over. He became an iconic coach, with stops at the University of Chicago, Cornell College, Iowa State Teachers College, and — finally and most notably — Penn State University. In 14 seasons at the helm in State College, Bill’s teams went unbeaten five times, had 20 All-Americans and boasted a 127-22-7 dual record.

Lisa and Bill are both in the Fort Dodge Athletics Hall of Fame; Lisa was inducted in 2016, and Bill was a part of the school’s inaugural class. Bill is also in the Hall of Fame at both UNI and Penn State, and he received recognition at virtually every regional, state and national stop before his death in 2003.

This fall, Lisa will continue in the family tradition — Bill’s son, Rob, was also a four-time All-American and national champion wrestler, as well as an esteemed coach at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. — when Iowa State places her among the best to ever compete as a Cyclone.

It could be argued that, given their improbable rise from our local streets to NCAA glory and the Olympic spotlight, Lisa and Bill Koll are the first two names included in a Dodger athletics “Mount Rushmore” discussion. With a shared bloodline and the comparable arc of their respective careers, this story has taken the track of a Hollywood script. And it’s one we should all know well to inspire future generations of Fort Dodgers.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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