Rulon Gardner has always displayed courage larger than life. Being larger than life -- that, it seems, is now the problem.
The man weighs -- or, to be more accurate, when he weighed in recently for his initial appearance on "The Biggest Loser" on NBC -- 474 pounds.
Even for a big man, and Rulon is a big man, that is way too big.
Nobody should weigh nearly a quarter of a ton.
That is obscene. For an Olympic champion -- indeed, one of the most amazing American Olympic champions of our times, that is all the more so.
Which is why Rulon, who is now 39, who said Friday he wants to live 'til he is 100, deserves extraordinary credit for acknowledging his problem and resolving to do something about it while he can. That's called courage.
In the six years since he won bronze in Athens in 2004, his second medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, Rulon said Friday in a conference call with reporters, "I had allowed myself to enjoy the fruits of life and not be accountable for it."
He also said, "It came down to lower self-esteem and, I hate to say it, but … depression."
It takes real courage to acknowledge that kind of stuff.
No one could be more down on reality TV than I am. Reality TV is stupid. Historians will look back on our fascination with the likes of "Survivor" and the Kardashian women and wonder why so many of us in these first years of the 21st century were apparently eager not only to be couch potatoes but vacuous morons.
That said, Rulon had a point when he was asked why he couldn't have just gone to the gym to lose weight.
Because, he said, being on reality TV was going to help keep him accountable. And it finally dawned on him last summer that he had to take stock. This, he said, was when he was being inducted into the wrestling hall of fame, his tux didn't fit, he finally squeezed into something he could wear, they had the ceremony and a nice dinner and, afterward, he and his wife, Kamie, went out for fast food.
"More like I had fast food and she went with me," he said, and as he and she sat in bed and watched on TV the ceremony they had attended that night, he literally did not recognize himself on the screen. He had gotten that big.
He got up from the bed. "I looked in the mirror and said, 'Holy cow, you are so physically unhealthy, you are so obese.' "
This, he said, is how bad it had become, Rulon never one for pulling punches: "Through my weight gain, I was almost embarrassed to be intimate with my wife … to have the confidence to be intimate with my wife."
Again, Rulon has lived a life that is large in the telling.
To recap just some of the highlights:
A gold medal in Sydney in 2000 over Russia's Alexander Karelin, who hadn't lost in more than a dozen years. The bronze in Athens in 2004.
In 2002 Rulon had to have a toe amputated after suffering frostbite. He had gotten stranded during a wilderness snowmobile trip.
In 2004 he got hit by a car while riding his motorcycle.
In 2007 he and two others were aboard a small plane that crashed into Lake Powell. They survived the impact, then had to swim in water that was said to be about 44 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an hour. After reaching shore, they then had to make it through the night -- no shelter or fire -- as the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. In the morning, a fisherman found them.
All that has taken courage to get through.
This, though -- this is by far the toughest. Because this isn't Rulon against Alexander Karelin, or Rulon against Mother Nature. This is Rulon against himself.
When he wrestled in 2000 in Sydney, Rulon weighed 286. In Athens, 264 1/2.
Reality TV is so, so stupid. That said, Rulon lost 32 pounds during the first week of "The Biggest Loser." So if that's what it takes to get Rulon to lose 200 pounds, and if he can do it, and keep it off for good -- good for him, and what a great example for everyone.
You know how much he really wants to weigh? He wants to drop more than 300 pounds. Down to 150.
He wants to be more like -- well, me. He wants to be a scrawny -- er, toned -- sportswriter. "Everyone thinks being big and strong is the best way to be," he said. "In my mind I always pictured being 150 pounds as being the best way to be."
Let's see. Buff sports scribe or "big and strong"? Which is the "best way to be"?
Call me when you get to 150, Rulon. We'll compare abs. My money is on you. In the meantime: let us all admire your (slimmer by the day) profile of courage.