When the wrestling squad takes on Ivy rival Penn tomorrow night inside the hallowed confines of the Friedman Wrestling Center — Dr. Dan Sisler Ph.D. ’65 will be front row and center.
Just like he’s been doing for years, he’ll make himself comfortable and take notice to the synthetic feel of the storied Wrestling Center’s plastic seats. He’ll hear music and find excitement in the roar of the sold out crowd. He’ll feel the nervous apprehension as butterflies rumble in his stomach before the culmination of each bout. He’ll literally smell the sweat drained from each wrestler, expelled in seven minutes after hours of hard work, preparation and practice that lie invisible and embedded in the mat. And he’ll practically be so close to the action — that he can taste it.
Unfortunately, Dr. Sisler won’t see a second of it.
Blind since age 25, Sisler follows the meet’s action with the aid of color commentary. The play-by-play comes from a member of the Cornell wrestling team that happens not to be wrestling that day. It is not only an experience, but a tradition that spans decades.
Sisler, a distinguished professor emeritus of applied economics and management, is a soldier both literally and figuratively. After losing his eyesight during service as a U.S. Air Force Survival and Rescue Specialist in the Korean War, Sisler took it upon himself to never let his unfortunate shortcomings get in the way of realizing his dreams.
After becoming a lecturer at Cornell in 1961, Sisler devoted his career to helping students learn, formulate ideas and tackle the mammoth problem that is world hunger. Enthusiastic and enthralling, Sisler has touched the lives of over 12,000 undergraduates over the course of his 32-year career and has been known to be an advisor that would accommodate new students eager to learn by taking in as many as 40 new advisees in any given semester.
Outside of Ithaca, Sisler has conducted research in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Mexico, Thailand and other developing nations around the world where has worked with governments to design cost-effective methods to feed the populace. He’s founded many different charity organizations, started up research programs conducted by local people in third-world countries and has even served as Chair of the Helen Keller International Committee that devotes its resources and time to the prevention of nutritional blindness. Sisler has even worked as an Advisor for the U.S. Veterans Association in program planning for heavily disabled veterans in the years 1977 to 1984.
Despite all that Sisler has contributed to society, here, in this situation inside the sunlit arena that is the Friedman Wrestling Center, the giver gets his chance to receive. A circle of generosity comes together as Sisler is allowed the chance to relax in his place on the plastic seat, soak in the environment of hard work and unselfishness surrounding him and reflect on the progress made by two separate entities to which he has had an influence on — the students and Cornell University.
It’s no coincidence that Sisler attends wrestling events — he frequents other sporting events as well — but here he can visualize a shot, appreciate its technique, relish in the reality of a solid scramble, acknowledge pain and work ethic, only to feel satisfaction once the shoulders fall parallel to the mat. All made possible because of a voice — that of a Cornell wrestler. A wrestler aware of Sisler’s sacrifices, aware of the importance of student, alumni and faculty fans. A wrestler aware and respectful of what really drives a successful athletic program — it’s not just the athlete, but the athlete’s support.
Like in wrestling, we recognize and appreciate what makes Sisler tick. In such a demanding sport, we value triumph, fighting through pain and the glory that comes with success. Loss, in the short term, can be a valuable experience as long as it means we better ourselves for later, when it really counts. In this situation, Sisler is more than a good example of what it means to be tough. He’s our American tough, an inspiration and he happens to be sitting right there in the front row.