Olympian Rulon Gardner wants to lose

January, 3, 2011

With so many folks hitting the treadmills and elliptical machines this week, energized by New Year's resolutions, it seems only fitting to start 2011 with a dieting tale of Olympic proportions.

It's been more than 10 years since Rulon Gardner did a surprisingly agile cartwheel to celebrate his stunning victory over Alexander Karelin in the Greco-Roman wrestling championship match at the Sydney Olympics. The former University of Nebraska All-American, who grew up milking cows on a Wyoming dairy farm, handed the Russian his first international defeat in 13 years.

In 2004, Gardner won a bronze medal in Athens and left his shoes in the middle of the mat in the wrestler's traditional farewell. He headed off to a career of motivational speaking and, apparently, reckless eating.

Gardner has survived a lot before and since then -- a childhood bow-and-arrow impaling; motorcycle and plane crashes; a snowmobile accident that led to frostbite and a partial toe amputation; and on a personal front, three divorces.

Now 39, Gardner may have seemed immortal, but his family and friends feared for his health as he ballooned to 474 pounds, 210 pounds over his fighting weight. He told the Salt Lake Tribune that his tipping point came in June as he sat in a hotel room chowing down on his second dinner of the night and watching a report on his induction into the U.S. Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"I said, 'Holy Cow, this is truly embarrassing,'" Gardner, who lives in Logan, Utah, told the newspaper in an interview published over the weekend.

Late last year, Gardner auditioned for and earned a slot on the NBC reality show "The Biggest Loser," where the winner takes home a $250,000 prize. The show's new season begins Tuesday. Gardner is competing in tandem with his longtime friend Justin Pope, a health club owner and former schoolboy rival.

"Ultimately, it's about taking some responsibility and not making excuses like I've made the last six years,'' Gardner told the Salt Lake Tribune.

How many of us can relate to that? Good luck, and lighten up.

Bonnie D. Ford

ESPN Senior Writer


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