Virginia Gardner was born 5 minutes behind her twin sister Ginger, prior to World War II. Virginia grew up in Arizona and joined every activity throughout her high school years. After high school, she joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) and became a Danforth Home Economics Fellowship Winner for Arizona, working with the USDA to teach nutrition, canning and sewing to homemakers. She met Reed Gardner and had nine children. Rulon was her baby.

Life was not easy on the farm. Rulon fed cows and had difficulty reading - his teachers did not think he could graduate from high school, never mind college. Virginia, who was a nurse, would come home at night and tutor Rulon late into the night. Rulon, who was teased because of his size and learning difficulties, was encouraged by Virginia to persist.

Rulon graduated from high school, then from junior college, and finally from the University of Nebraska. Virginia is most proud that every one of her children graduated from college and several of them have advanced degrees.

When Rulon reached the Olympic final in Sydney, he faced an opponent anyone’s mother would fear: Alexander Karelin of Russia, undefeated in 14 years, whose signature move was hoisting 286-pound opponents over his head and slamming them head first into the mat. The only time he had wrestled Rulon, he had done it three times, annihilating him 5-0.

Family members made Virginia promise to sit on an inside seat so she couldn’t run from the arena. From there she witnessed one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, as Rulon won 1-0. Rulon won the gold medal, defying all expectation--as he had all of his life. With the encouragement and support of his mother Virginia.

For more information on Rulon and his various death-defying feats since retiring from the sport of wrestling,  log on to



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Facts about Rulon

  • Defeated 3-time Greco-Roman wrestling champion Alexander Karelin of Russia for the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic games

  • 2001 World Champion

  • Residents of the Gardners’ tiny hometown of Afton, Wyoming all pitched in to help send 16 members of Rulon’s family to Australia to support him

"All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her." —George Washington


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