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Feet First
E.M. Swift
June 03, 2002
After a snowmobile mishap left him ravaged by frostbite and cost him a toe, Olympic heavyweight Rulon Gardner is taking his comeback one step at a time
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June 03, 2002

Feet First

After a snowmobile mishap left him ravaged by frostbite and cost him a toe, Olympic heavyweight Rulon Gardner is taking his comeback one step at a time

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Two weeks ago he and Tausha got back together. Now Gardner, who's coming off the mat emotionally, has his eye on property in the mountains, with a spectacular view of Afton, that he's hoping to buy in the next couple of years with the money he makes giving speeches and wrestling clinics around the country. The family dairy farm is being run by his oldest brother, Rollin, and Rulon has no intention of settling anywhere else. "This is home," he says. His great-great-grandfather, Archibald Gardner, a Mormon polygamist who had size 14 feet, first settled in Afton in 1889 with his 11th wife, Mary, a big-boned woman who, in a family photograph taken in 1921, bears a startling resemblance to a certain Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler. "Don't she look like me?" Gardner asks proudly.

Every other day he spends more than an hour changing the bandages on his feet, peeling away the dead skin with tweezers. After he's bathed them with saline solution, he puts latex gloves over his size 13 feet so he can shower, the empty latex fingers flopping in front of his swollen feet like teats from an udder. "Got milk?" he jokes, a sly reference to his National Dairy Council ad that ran after the Sydney Olympics.

The last pin, in his right big toe, is scheduled to be removed this week. Fourteen weeks after his accident, his feet, while still a long way from being ready for a beauty contest, are finally beginning to resemble, well, feet. "I'm encouraged," says Thurman. "The tendon over his right big toe is pretty much gone, so that one will always be stiff. But I think December is a very reasonable timetable for him to be wrestling again. And I fully expect to be watching him in the 2004 Olympics."

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