By Kyle Goon
Class of 2010
Rulon Gardner, the hulking former Olympic champion who once shocked the world by toppling a Russian Goliath, is working with two pupils: a 13-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. It is the girl’s first class, and she is unsure of her motions.
He takes her hands and shows her how to chop her opponent’s arm, how move around them and how to bring them to the ground. A few men look on, shuffling as they wait for their class to start in the mixed martial arts room. Gardner does not notice them — he already has students he’s working with.
The farm boy from Afton, Wyo., became a gold medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling, a motivational speaker and an Olympic icon. But for today, the 38-year-old Gardner is just a coach, filling in for an instructor who couldn’t make it to class. At other gyms or restaurants named after athletes, their names might be the only trace that they ever were there. But at Gardner’s Elite Training Center, he’s on the staff. His wife, Kamie Gardner, works at the front desk. He prides himself in meeting every one of his members.
“If I’m putting money into this, I want to know it’s being done right,” Gardner says.
Built into an old Macy’s department store space, the fitness club is like many others, with uniform rows of dumbbells, an army of treadmills and other fancy-looking weight machines. There’s a group fitness room where trainers teach yoga and Zoomba. Then there’s Gardner’s favorite: the MMA room which sports a padded floor, a boxing ring, an MMA octagon ring and a dozen punching bags. It’s where he can teach wrestling and give back to the sport that gave him celebrity, money and purpose.
It almost didn’t happen.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune. For the entire story, visit SLTrib.com.