TV appearance prompted Rulon Gardner to change his life on 'Biggest Loser'

Published: Saturday, Jan. 8 2011 12:29 a.m. MST

Left to right, Justin Pope and Rulon Gardner

Trae Patton/NBC

Rulon Gardner's appetite was out of control.

At one point the man with enormous girth was more interested in shoveling down food than spending quality time with his wife.

His quest to shed more than 200 pounds on NBC's "The Biggest Loser: Couples" has forced him to be brutally honest with himself and others.

"Sometimes in life it hurts to hear the truth, but I want to speak the truth to myself to say, 'Rulon, it's time that you are as healthy as you can for yourself and not for any other reason.' The only way to do that is to be responsible and accountable," Gardner said during a media teleconference Friday. "I want to be alive until I am 100 years old. That is my goal."

The Olympic wrestling champion revealed many details about his life Friday, including his old eating habits and lifestyle, an eye-opening epiphany, his desire to be a parent, what he has learned on the "Biggest Loser" and how to be accountable for his health.

The Logan resident weighed in at 286 pounds when he won the gold in Greco-Roman wrestling in 2000. He weighed 265 when he took the bronze medal in the 2004 games. With wrestling behind him, he said he didn't have a health plan and wanted to enjoy the fruits of life.

"It was easier to go get something to eat rather than worry about my physical body. It snowballed until I realized it was out of control," Gardner said.

While Gardner and his competition partner, Justin Pope, operated their business, Rulon Gardner Elite Training Center in Logan, Gardner said he was good and only ate 1,000 calories during the day. But then he stayed up late pigging out on more than 3,000 calories in the evenings.

"There was another pound of fat that goes on the body because I ate so many calories late," he said.

For the past year, Gardner and his wife, Kami, have been wanting to start a family. At one point they went to a doctor to have his sperm count checked. He was informed everything was fine, but the doctor addressed "the elephant in the room."

"My doctor said, 'Rulon,' point blank, 'the obesity you have on you is going to make it so much harder. It's going to hurt your sperm count and hurt all these things,' " Gardner said. " 'And in the long term, you many not be able to have kids because of that.' "

As a result of his size and weight, Gardner admitted he was almost embarrassed to be intimate with his wife.

"That was an issue. And that was just a cosmetic issue of the problem, being so big and so fat. I didn't have the confidence to be intimate with my wife," he said. "It got to the point that I would sit down and consume all this bad food instead of making love to my wife. That is a bad thing for a man to have to say, but you know what, it was true."

Gardner hit rock bottom and made the determination to change his lifestyle last year when he was in Oklahoma to be inducted into the national wrestling hall of fame. Following a big dinner, he and his wife went for fast food. "It was more like I went for fast food and she came with me," he said. Upon returning to their hotel room, she went to bed and he ate and watched a local news report featuring his hall of fame induction.

What he saw appalled him. If the human "bowling ball" didn't change his life, he would find himself in the gutter lane of death.

"I did not recognize the person in the TV footage," he said. "As I watched I realized my health had become an issue. That was the day I looked in the mirror and said, 'Holy cow, you are so physically unhealthy and so obese, it's time to make a change.' "

The 39-year-old used wrestling connections to apply for spot on "The Biggest Loser." He has already shed 32 of the 474 pounds he registered during the first episode's weigh-in.

Some may consider Gardner to be the favorite to win the TV competition, something he would like because he could put the prize money into his training center. But he sees himself more as a motivation for others who want "to take down the Olympic champion." Gardner just wants to drop the pounds, avoid injuries and maintain a healthy lifestyle for the family he hopes to father in the future. His wife wants to help.

"I am a human being, a carnivore who likes to eat, but I want to be smart. If I eat, I have to pay the price for it," he said. "My health is more important than attitude or looks. It's about my being as a person. I want to be at peace with my wife. She has said she is not going to let me stay up and eat like I used to. She said, 'You are going to come to bed with me.' If that means we are going to do whatever, have intimacy, whatever it is, we are going to do it."

The show will continue through a live finale in May.

e-mail: ttoone@desnews.com

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