Former Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner of the United States scored the biggest win of his career when he ended Russian Alexander Karelin's 13-year winning streak at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Now 10 years later and embarrassed by being nearly 95 kilograms heavier, Gardner has his sights on winning another competition, the popular American reality television show "The Biggest Loser".
Gardner has never been a light person. The 185-centimeter-tall wrestler competed in the 130-kilogram Super Heavy Weight division and was an Olympic, world and U.S. wrestling champion during his illustrious career.
Since retiring after the 2004 Athens Olympics, the 39-year-old got lost in a sedentary lifestyle and ballooned to more than 215 kilograms.
Being an Olympic champion, Gardner felt that he earned the right to indulge after years of injuries and sacrifice. He made numerous excuses to himself and made only minor efforts to lose weight.
"I said to myself, 'I've been cutting weight all these years and I've been really strict on having to make a certain weight. I'm never going to step on a scale again. I'm never going to look at a scale and have to say I'm accountable for my weight.' I truly fell into that trap and I truly did not see the responsibility upon myself because for me, it was all about focusing on myself and food," said Gardner.
By the time the Wyoming native was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame last year, he had gained nearly 95 kilograms and could not fit into his old tuxedo. When Gardner watched himself on a television broadcast of the event while consuming fast food he had just purchased, he was horrified and embarrassed by what he saw.
"They have a clip of me, and I did not recognize the person in the TV footage," Gardner recalled. "Everything finally came through, because I realized that my health was starting to become an issue. That was the day that I looked in the mirror and said, 'Holy cow. You are so physically unhealthy and you are so obese. It's time to make a change.'"
The world champion wrestler says he finally decided to take responsibility for his weight and took his efforts public by joining the popular American reality television show "The Biggest Loser" as a contestant.
Joined by his friend and business partner, former wrester Justin Pope, Rulon Gardner looks to use the competition as extra motivation to lose weight because he will have the accountability and pressures of appearing on television.
"A lot of it I think is responsibility," added Gardner. "I could go hire a trainer, but then I can make excuses. Being at home I can say all these different things because we have trainers in our club."
Gardner opened his own academy in November 2009, the Rulon Gardner Elite Training Center, a 24-hour fitness facility that combines various forms of training and fitness.
The former Olympic champ, who takes great pride in his training center and being a teacher to the young athletes who look up to him, believes that his and Pope's efforts will lead to more respect from the club members.
"If we're going to be in a business where, you know, we promote health and fitness and lifestyle and changes, we need to look the part," said Gardner. "And it's a side effect to the obesity and being on the show. But you know what? We'll accept the responsibilities to say you know what? We're going to look the part. We're going to show you how to use the equipment and show you how to reach your fitness goals through what we've learned."
And as depicted in the premier of the show, Gardner and Pope combined to shed almost 27 kilograms and won the show's first challenge, a 5-kilometer race, - beating 10 other teams. With that kind of progress, Gardner won't have to be embarrassed when he spots himself on the television.