Winning the Olympic Games in wrestling to a three Olympic gold medalist was only a short phase in life for Ricks College alumnus Rulon Gardner.
He broke all the expectations in the Olympic Games, celebrated in Sydney, Australia in 2000, when he beat his opponent Alexander Karelin, Russian Greco-Roman wrestler.
“He beat the best wrestler in the history of wrestling – a wrestler who had never been beaten,” the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling Coach Steve Fraser pointed out to The Guardian.
After his return to the USA, multiple opportunities were presented to Gardner. From a farm boy to a sports celebrity and inspirational speaker, Gardner’s life changed immensely.
His wrestling career started while he attended his local high school in Star Valley, Wyoming, and competed against his older brother, Reynold Gardner.
“I was always determined to beat him,” Gardner said.
Bob Christensen, former physics and science professor at Ricks College, offered Gardner a scholarship.
“Christensen recruited me because of the potential I had not because who I was,” Gardner said.
Convinced by the vision Christensen had of him, Gardner accepted the scholarship at Ricks College.
“For me, Ricks College is the most unique institution, it was a great stepping tool that took me to the next level: university and the Olympics,” Gardner said.
Gardner said it was during his time in college that he learned about himself and his potential.
“It was because of Ricks College that I learned hard work ethic, integrity and self-determination,” he shared.
Gardner said he was not very special, but grew to be so.
“The coolest thing for me was that I brought a spotlight to the Greco-Roman wrestling sport to the people that never heard about it,” Gardner said.
At the same time Gardner struggled in school because of his learning disability and was told from one of his advisors that he would never graduate.
Despite his struggle, Gardner did not want to give up.
“I knew that if I ever was going to fail it was because I was going to quit and I never wanted to give up,” Gardner said.
It took six years for Gardner to obtain his bachelor’s degree.
On Feb. 14, 2002, Gardner got hypothermia after snowmobiling with some of his friends and almost died.
“It was then when I saw God, Jesus and one of my brothers that died when I was 8 years old, I knew then that I was no longer afraid to die,” Gardner said.
At the same time, Gardner is aware that he missed time with his family.
“My parents passed away shortly after the Olympic Games,” he said. “I was always away from home traveling the world and I missed multiple family events.”
Nowadays you can see Gardner selling insurance and giving speeches at schools and wrestling clinics.
“I used to give 100 speeches a year, but now… kids even from my local high school wonder who I am,” he said.
Even though years have passed, Gardner’s legacy is still prevailing.
“My dream was so far away from my reality and everyday it’s been a challenge for me but even through the ups and downs I have always found a way to make things happen,” Gardner said.