Gardner's training did not start in a weight room or Olympic plaza, but on the family dairy farm. The youngest of nine children, he built strength by bucking hay bales, hauling calves off in subzero weather to the safety of the barn, milking cows, moving sprinkler pipe, and other farm chores.
He was large for his age and struggled academically and socially in school. He did, however, excel in football, wrestling, and track and field. Sports did provide a break from the farm; however, chores were waiting to get done when he got home, and also had to be done before school.
Following high school, he received scholarship offers in football and wrestling at Ricks College in Idaho and nearby Wyoming community colleges. He went to Ricks on a wrestling scholarship were he won the NJCAA championship for his weight his sophomore year.
Following his years at Ricks, he went to Nebraska, where he had respectable showings in the "Big Eight" and NCAA tournaments. He also took a shot at the championship Cornhusker Football Team as well, though he never played for them.
Following his wrestling eligibility, he stayed at Nebraska until he earned a teaching degree. Gardner has yet to teach in a classroom, though. Gardner also trained in Greco-Roman Wrestling. He barely missed the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta due to a mistiming. He trained and made it to the 2000 Olympics, however. Following his victory, he won the 2001 World Championships in wrestling as well.
He won the bronze in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, too, as numerous injuries hurt his wrestling chances. He left his shoes on the mat as a symbol of retirement. Since retirement he has started in martial arts, and has been a motivational speaker as well. Presently Gardner owns a store that sells food and other goods in Afton, Wyoming.
Gardner has been somewhat accident-prone, starting with several accidents in school and on the family farm. He also suffered hypothermia, when he got lost snowmobiling near his home town and went into the water. He overcame these incidents in order to wrestle. Gardner has also been involved in car-motorbike accidents, and a plane crash in Lake Powell, in which he got out in 44 degree weather and survived 28 degrees with no food or shelter. He's had many other near mishaps. His family has had many trials, too, during Gardner's growing-up years, including deaths and business losses.
He has overcome many odds, and has basically wrestled all his life, surmounting challenges to win a gold medal and to be a great inspiration to many people.
Rulon Gardner's homepage, which includes his impressive Gold Medal victory: