Olympian Rulon Gardner talks about life, plans to build wrestling program for youth in Washington County

ST. GEORGE — It’s rare to encounter someone who lives up to the cliche “Larger than life,” yet that was exactly the case Wednesday afternoon when Rulon Gardner dropped by Canyon Media for an interview on the Fox Sports Southern Utah radio show “From the Bleachers.”

L-R: Rulon Gardner and Mark Musgrave, aka The Voice You Know, hold Gardner’s Olympic medals in studio at Canyon Media, St. George, Utah, Aug. 18, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

Speaking with hosts Mark Musgrave, aka The Voice You Know, and Kaden Foremaster, Gardner covered some of the many topics and experiences from his life that make him so unique.

But first, he updated listeners about what’s going on in his life right now.

After coaching three years at Herriman High School, Gardner moved to Southern Utah, where he’ll be an assistant wrestling coach at Dixie State University beginning this year. He also has some other plans.

“We started our youth wrestling club down here; it’s Rulon Gardner’s Gold Medal Gym,” he said. “We’re building a new facility, about 5,000 square feet with two mats. It’ll be right next to the (Washington County) Fairgrounds.”

Gardner said that while the Salt Lake area has year-round wrestling options for youth, Southern Utah still has some catching up to do. 

“We really don’t have that here in the St. George area, so we’re trying to lift wrestling across the board and get it a lot better,” Gardner said. “It’s just a passion of mine to go out and teach.”

Gardner, an Olympic gold and bronze medal winner in wrestling, estimated that he has participated in at least 1,000 media interviews over the course of his career.

Movies have been made about him. He was on a reality show. He’s been interviewed by every major late night television host, and St. George News caught up with him in June at a wrestling camp he conducted at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

Getting to this point was a long road, however, and is what Gardner shared Wednesday on “From the Bleachers.”

Gardner grew up on a farm in Star Valley, Wyoming, the youngest of nine children and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rulon Gardner (left) with hosts Kaden Foremaster (right) and Mark Musgrave during “From the Bleachers,” St. George, Utah, Aug. 18, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

He said he originally got into wrestling because it got him out of having to do farm work in the long, cold winter days, but the ultimate results were something bigger, including developing stronger work habits despite his attempt at escaping his chores.

“Wrestling gave me an opportunity to develop friendships and a work ethic,” Gardner said, “and I realized I had some ability in wrestling, but it wasn’t until I got out of high school that I really started to see the potential I had.” 

Gardner developed his skills at Ricks Junior College in Idaho (now Brigham Young University-Idaho) and then transferred to the University of Nebraska. However, more daunting than what happened on the wrestling mat was what happened in the classroom.

Gardner battled a learning disability his whole life, and he was entering a very difficult degree program in physical education. He was warned that he’d never get through the program.

“I went out there and took on something that was probably bigger and stronger than I was,” he said, “but I just put the time and effort in to overcome it and ultimately graduate.” 

Mark Musgrave, aka The Voice You Know (left) chats with Rulon Gardner (right) during “From the Bleachers,” St. George, Utah, Aug. 18, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

That prove-them-wrong attitude fueled Gardner when he pulled off what some say is the greatest sports upset of all time.

Going into the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the Greco-Roman wrestling world was dominated by Russian Aleksandyr Karelin, who had compiled an astonishing 887-2 record. He hadn’t lost in 13 years, and he hadn’t surrendered a point in six years before the Olympics.

Gardner defeated the big Russian 1-0 and shocked the world to claim the gold medal. He surprised himself as well.

“I didn’t have confidence,” he said. “But what I realized I did have was an opportunity. Everyday in life, you give 100% for the chance to be successful in those situations.”

In the years after that pinnacle moment, Gardner faced many other challenges – far greater adversity than just wrestling opponents. He survived a snowmobile accident and a plane crash, losing a toe in the former and nearly drowning in the latter.

After the radio interview, St. George News asked Gardner if he feels lucky to be alive.

“I don’t know if it’s lucky, or more blessed,” Gardner said. “We forget in life, but everyday is a miracle. Every day you see the sun come up, you have one more day and one more opportunity to be happy, and to do the things that are important.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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