Olympic gold medalist speaks at Moffat County High School

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Yesterday in the Moffat County gym, Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner took some time to speak to high school students.

But that was not all.

With some persuasion from a cheering crowd the Greco-Roman wrestler display some of his moves on junior, Ryan Hess. After his win, he executed the same victory cartwheel that he made famous at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

"He's a big guy," Hess said after grappling with the gold medalist.

Hess though he had a chance of taking Gardner, had it been "Maybe me and a couple dozen other guys."

Gardner, a native of Afton Wyo., became a household name after beating Russia's Alexander Karelin, the undefeated World Champion of 12 years. The wrestler was little known before Sydney, having spent six years just attempting to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

The 53-inch barrel-chested, champion spoke to the Moffat County students about the importance of goal setting and decision making, drawing heavily on examples from his own life.

Gardner recounted growing up the son of a Star Valley Dairy farmer and the youngest of nine children.

He talk about what it took for him to get from the cow udders to the Olympic podium, fighting his way through learning disabilities and athletic adversity.

"You always have to set goals for yourself," Gardner said. "When I was in high school my primary goal was to graduate, and I put 100 percent effort into achieving that goal.

"You have to ask yourself 'What can I do to improve myself today?'"

Along with the speech on self-improvement, Gardner also spoke about the importance of the family, and how his family has helped him to succeed.

Gardner was invited to Craig by the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, along with the help of Moffat County wrestling coach Roman Gutierrez, who contacted the wrestler.

Grand Futures is a state-and federally-funded anti-drug coalition that invites speakers, such as Gardner, to address students on a regular basis.

Coalition Director Kent Nielson said the Olympic wrestler was an exceptionally, pertinent speaker for the Moffat County students.

"Rulon is from a farming community in rural Wyoming, so his background makes it easy for him to connect with the kids in Craig," he said. "I really felt that he made a connection with the kids. They were a little rambunctious at first, but once Rulon started talking, they all settled down.

"I was impressed with the time he spent with the kids, they really responded to him."

Moffat County High School was not Gardner's only stop Monday.

After his speech to the teenagers, he traveled to Ridgeview Elementary School to talk with the students there.

Gardner will continue traveling around Colorado for the next few days, stopping at schools in Steamboat Springs, Walden, and Encampment.

The Olympic champion said he enjoys the time he gets to spend with children, and sees the experience as an opportunity rather then a responsibly.

"It's a great opportunity, I love to have a positive influence on kids," Gardner said. "I just hope that I can motivate them to keep open ideas and minds, and to work hard to achieve their goals."

To keep up on Rulon Gardner's career, log onto www.rulongardner.com.

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