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Be Careful What You Wish For
Rick Reilly
February 18, 2002
Olympics? Polygamist Timothy Wadlow doesn't have time for any Olympics. He's got three wives, three houses and 28 kids to juggle. You sure they don't give a medal for this kind of thing?
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February 18, 2002

Be Careful What You Wish For

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Olympics? Polygamist Timothy Wadlow doesn't have time for any Olympics. He's got three wives, three houses and 28 kids to juggle. You sure they don't give a medal for this kind of thing?

Wadlow (all names have been changed) is one of 30,000 dirty little secrets Utah would very much like to keep hidden during the Salt Lake City Games. That's how many polygamists are estimated to be living in the state. And their number is believed to be growing, despite that polygamy is condemned by the Mormon church and illegal in Utah.

So even though the Wadlows live not five miles from one of the busiest Olympic venues, they won't be going to the Games. "The state of Utah doesn't allow us to be open and public," says one of Wadlow's better fourths, Donna, who speaks for the family. "So we'll watch them on TV."

Besides, the Wadlows practically stage their own Olympics. At one of their homes they have six snowmobiles, a quarter-mile-long lighted sledding hill, basketball and volleyball courts, and snow cone and popcorn machines. Since they're 32 strong—more participants than 54 nations have in Salt Lake City—the Wadlows always have enough for a football game. "Our children don't want to become pro athletes," says Donna. "They want to dedicate their lives to their children, just as their father has done."

Still, wouldn't it be cool if someday a polygamist NFL star looked into the camera and chirped, "Hi, Moms!"

If you want to try this at home, be warned: Polygamy is not a Penthouse letter brought to life. "Everybody thinks it's about sex and orgies," says Donna, who came from a family with 35 children and three mothers, breaking the record set by Shawn Kemp. "It isn't. We're not in this for romance, sex, money or status. We're in it for the spirituality. We know this is what the Lord wants."

As Fundamentalist Mormons, the Wadlows believe the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, had a revelation from God to reinstitute the Biblical practice of polygamy. Some believe Smith may have had as many as 84 wives before he died at the hands of a mob—not believed to be the 84 wives.

Nowadays, most plural marriages, as polygamists like to call them, work better if the wives live separately. The Wadlow so-called sister-wives all keep their own kids under their own roofs until Sunday, when the whole gang gets together for prayer, play and a supper large enough to buckle Mrs. Osmond.

As to which roof the husband sleeps under each night, "two nights for each wife and then move on," says Jack Miller, a former polygamist who lives about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.

O.K., but what happens when one wife gets jealous of another? "That happens," says Jack. "I had a wife tell me she deserved more nights because she had more kids than the other wives." Who hasn't been in that argument, huh?

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