Olympic wrestler has friends in Baker City
By GERRY STEELE
Olympian Rulon Gardner will conduct a wrestling clinic and offer a motivational talk Friday at Baker High School.
The retired Gardner is coming to BHS due to the efforts of the BHS wrestling program and Baker Mat Club. Gardner will conduct his clinic from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday in the BHS main gym. Gardner will present a motivational speech at 6 p.m. Friday in the main gym.
A USA wrestling tournament also is planned Saturday. Weigh-ins will be from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. with wrestling to start at 10 a.m.
Admission to the speech and the autograph and photo session afterward is $25. Proceeds from the event will be used to buy new mats for use by all Baker wrestling programs, said Dee Gorrell, BHS wrestling coach.
Gardner's appearance has stirred longtime memories of local relatives and family friends.
Ruth Boyd of Baker City, Gardner's second cousin, and family friends Ray and Carol Field of Baker City recently reminisced about the two-time Olympic medal winner.
"Reed Gardner, Rulon's dad, and I are cousins," said Boyd. "Both our families grew up in Star Valley, Wyo.
"When I heard Rulon was going to be here, I was excited," she said.
Boyd, who plans to attend Friday's activities, was born at Auburn, Wyo., "10 miles down the road from Afton where Rulon was raised.
"When Reed and I were little their family came out here. The men stayed here with the kids and the women went to the World's Fair."
Boyd has a large scrapbook full of stories and clippings of Gardner's Olympic fetes and other successes. One of Boyd's more cherished souvenirs is a gray T-shirt with a photo of Gardner winning the 2000 Olympic gold medal. After winning the gold, Gardner autographed the shirt, and several others like it, and sent them to family members.
To win the gold medal, Gardner defeated Russia's Alexander Karelin, a three-time Olympic champion, 1-0 in overtime. Karelin had never been defeated in a 13-year international career.
"It was pretty amazing that he could win the gold," Boyd said.
She didn't get to attend the Olympics when Gardner, now 35, won his gold, but she did watch the excitement on television.
"I missed most of the excitement when he was at the Olympics. My husband was ill, and I was not able to get away," Boyd said.
Boyd also noted that Gardner won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics, a fete that was almost more amazing to her because Gardner had suffered a severe injury two years earlier.
Gardner, who graduated in 1996 with a physical education degree from the University of Nebraska, had lost the middle toe on his right foot to frostbite during a snowmobiling accident in February 2002. While snowmobiling, Gardner became lost in the mountains in 25-below temperatures for 18 hours. Once he was found he was flown by air ambulance to a hospital and after multiple surgeries, skin grafts and the loss of his toe, began his rehabilitation.
After winning the 2004 bronze medal, Gardner sat down on the mat, removed his shoes and walked out of the arena the sign that a wrestler has decided to retire.
Despite Gardner's accomplishments he refused to be called a hero.
"I am what I am, a wrestler," he said in an October 2000 story in the Church News. "Because you win a sporting event, you're not a hero. Parents should be more heroes than me."
Boyd said she remembers Gardner as a nice person.
"He doesn't put on a lot of airs. That speaks well for him," she said.
Friends of the family
Ray and Carol Field never got to know Gardner all that well. They did, however, become good friends with his sister, Marcella.
"I was a professor at the University of Wyoming for 37 1/2 years," Ray Field said. "Marcella was a student there, and she worked at the University of Wyoming in the graduate school and later admissions.
"She married a man named Dale Wright, and they lived a quarter-mile down the road from us. In that area, that was only two houses down.
"We went to the same church, so we saw them most every Sunday."
Field said Gardner's father used to call him about dairy questions.
"We also talked about animal science which was the department I was in," he said.
Field said one of Gardner's cousins was the dairy farm manager at the University of Wyoming.
The Fields had a son who was about the same age as Gardner, and who wrestled at Wyoming. Gardner wrestled at Nebraska.
"We always teased Rulon that he was a traitor because he went to Nebraska instead of Wyoming," Field said.
He said the family had little other interaction with Gardner.
"He was just starting to wrestle when our boy was finishing," Field said. "We haven't had any contact with him since we moved here."
Field said the Star Valley, Wyo., area is similar to the Baker Valley.
"I think the area Rulon was raised in and his background there are very similar to farm and ranch kids in this area," Field said.
"His life has been devoted to wrestling. He's also an avid outdoorsman."
Gardner, who now travels the country doing motivational speeches, also has recently published a book.
In March, Gardner released his book titled "Never Stop Pushing: My Life From a Wyoming Farm to the Olympic Medal Stand." The book will be available for sale for $20 as well as other souvenirs Friday.