Former Olympic Gold Medalist Rulon Gardner Shares Stories With Bearcat Athletes

Olympic wrestling gold medalist Rulon Gardner told a group of Willamette University athletes, coaches and others last night that what drove him to succeed “was not the desire to win, but to always do my best.”

Gardner, 33, who appeared at the special event because of his friendship with a Willamette University alumnus, faced an even bigger challenge than defeating Russian Alexander Karelin for the gold in the 2000 Olympics.

Two years after winning in Sydney, Gardner almost lost his life when he was stranded overnight in freezing temperatures in his home state of Wyoming.

Facing the loss of his frozen feet, Gardner used the same determination that gave him gold to recover from his injuries, and then qualified for the 2004 Olympics, where he won a bronze medal.

“It wasn’t just about winning. It was making it back to wrestling and making the Olympic team that drove me,” said Gardner. “That bronze medal felt just as good as the gold because I had done my best.”

Gardner told the 60 student-athletes that his quest began on a farm in Wyoming, surrounded by eight siblings and a strong work ethic. He shared his seven steps to success, including “aiming high when you feel low,” and “building on your dreams to overcome obstacles.”

“It’s about heart and desire and determination,” said Gardner. “I found myself pushing a little harder every day, striving to do just a little bit more.”

It was a message that rang true for the Willamette student-athletes.

“To see where Rulon came from and what he achieved after facing so many obstacles was a tremendous lesson for our students. The heart and determination Gardner showed is a lesson we all can learn from,” said Athletic Director Mark Majeski.

Gardner, the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and the World Wrestling Championship in consecutive years, will soon be traveling to Japan to compete in a mixed martial arts full contact competition.

At the event, Gardner presented football player Blake Cam, a former high school state-wrestling champ, with a singlet signed by a number of Olympians.