Lee Benson, Deseret News
LOGAN — Other than a short visit at Christmastime, Kamie Gardner hasn't seen her husband in six months and doesn't expect to see him again at least until April. He doesn't call, text or e-mail and only occasionally sends letters in the mail — and they're long on generalities and short on detail.
You can imagine what she'll say to him when he finally comes home.
Or, hopefully, Biggest Loser.
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Kamie's husband, of course, is Rulon Gardner, the Olympic champion wrestler who retired after the 2004 Athens Olympics and then put himself on the see food diet: if he could see it, he'd eat it.
Man did it work. He weighed 265 pounds when he retired. Four years later, when he married Kamie, he weighed 350. Last September, when the TV series "The Biggest Loser" said come on down, he weighed 474.
For all the right reasons, Kamie was glad to see him go.
If he's the loser she thinks he is capable of being, he will outlast all the other competitors and come back to their home in Wellsville with the show's $250,000 first prize.
And even if he doesn't win the money, he'll be half the man he used to be.
When Kamie saw Rulon during his Christmas furlough, he'd already lost 108 pounds, the equivalent of one lightweight high school wrestler.
"He looked great," says Kamie, who looks as lean and fit as when she was a college volleyball player for Idaho State.
Kamie isn't just filing her nails as she waits for Rulon to finish up his TV career. Fifteen months ago, she and Rulon and Rulon's friend and business partner, Justin Pope, opened the Rulon Gardner Elite Training Center in south Logan.
And since Justin also qualified for The Biggest Loser competition, that just left Kamie to run the gym.
"I have been sorta busy," she says.
She notes that the fitness center, oddly enough, had a lot to do with Rulon putting on so much weight.
"You'd think it would be the other way around," she says. "But there's so much that goes into opening a place like this, so much stress, so little time to workout.
"I would cook healthy meals," shrugs Kamie, "But he does like to munch at night."
Although it wasn't any nagging from her that set him on a different path.
"This was something he wanted to do, and I know that all along he'd been thinking, I'll get back into it," she says. "As it turned out, the TV show was really good motivation."
The irony of the gym's namesake exiling himself to the world's most well-known fat farm has not hurt business, says Kamie.
On the contrary, business is up — especially on Tuesday nights when "The Biggest Loser" airs on NBC. It's hard to find an open treadmill that faces the wall of televisions, all of which are tuned to you-know-who on you-know-what.
In tribute to Rulon and Justin, the training center is holding a "Biggest Loser Boot Camp" consisting of an hour workout five days a week patterned after the exercises on the TV show.
"I've lost 10 pounds in the last month and a half, and I'm not even doing it to lose the weight," says 145-pound Nate Lambson, 33, as he leaves the gym. "Rulon is the kind of person who inspires you to live life to the fullest. I took many years off myself and didn't do anything. What he's doing has motivated me to get back at it."
Another gym member, Dan Levanger, 32, holds up a left arm in a cast. He recently fell off a roof installing a satellite dish. "What Rulon's doing has inspired me to push myself, get better, heal my life," he says.
Kamie beams at such endorsements. When Rulon gets back, they'll all be healthier.
In the meantime, she and Rulon are reduced to weekly letters, which is all "The Biggest Loser," in an effort to not give away the plot, allows.
"In my letters I tell him how the gym is doing and all the news from home," she says. "But his letters are I miss you, things are going well, and that's about it. He can't say much."
All she knows for sure is that every week he stays away, he'll be that much bigger of a loser when he comes back to her.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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