Rulon Gardner teaching a wrestling clinic in Vermillion on Nov. 9, 2012.
Rulon Gardner is probably best known as the Olympic Gold Medalist who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of Olympic Games, but there is so much more to this gentle giant who has cheated death at least 3 times and keeps getting up and coming back for more. He was in Vermillion yesterday and we caught up with him at a wrestling clinic.
After all these years Rulon Gardner is still in his element when he is surrounded by wrestling mats and kids who want to be just like him someday; an Olympic champion. Gardner writes about his humble beginnings in his book "Never Stop Pushing".
"It's an autobiography on my life growing up on a dairy farm in Wyoming which is an hour south of Yellowstone in the middle of the mountains. I worked hard. I had 9 brothers and sisters. I had a learning disability and I really struggled at school. I stayed true to myself and went too the University of Nebraska in Lincoln," Gardner said.
While a Husker, Gardner said he was never the best wrestler on the team but he always strived to be. His country watched him achieve that goal with gold. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics this Wyoming kid who used to wrestle cattle for fun, took out a Russian stronghold that hadn't lost in 13 years. He beat 3 time Gold Medal winner Aleksandr Karelin in Greco-Roman wrestling and instantly became an American force to be reckoned with. A year later he won the world championship, but 3 months after that in 2002 he got separated from friends while snowmobiling and found himself stranded in the mountains of Star Valley, Wyoming.
"I spent 18 hours in 25 below zero. I survived frost bite, hypothermia. I came back with a loss of a toe and I lost feeling in my foot but for me I had to regain and rebuild myself. That was a tough night in the wilderness. That night taught me a lot of who I am and the strength that I have, "Gardner said.
Two years later he came back to win the Bronze in Athens and again knocked on death's door in February 2007 after the small plane he and 2 others were riding in crashed in an icy cold lake in Southern Utah. He suffered hypothermia again, but survived with little more than bumps and bruises.
The younger generation probably recognizes Rulon as a contestant on the NBC show "The Biggest Loser" last year. He wanted to drop weight because he was tossing around a 2012 run for the Gold again in London but both titles escaped him. Struggle and survival are part of this coach and motivational speaker's mantra. This is what he wants these Vermillion kids to remember.
"Find out what you love and give back to the next generation," Gardner said.
One more harrowing tale; in 3rd grade during show and tell Rulon was punctured in the stomach with an arrow. He was a tough cookie even back then!