- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Maybe they should just give Rulon Gardner his own reality show. That way, there’d be a camera present for his next death-defying stunt (and we wouldn’t have to rely on sketchy second-hand reports). “The Perils of Rulon,” you could call it — or better still, “The Nine Lives of Rulon Gardner.”

Hey, why not? If they can televise bench-pressing from the NFL scouting combine and a home-improvement show hosted by Tony Siragusa (the upcoming “Man Caves”), there has to be room for Rulon. The man, after all, is a 21st-century Houdini; his entire life is an extreme sport.

Gardner, the erstwhile Olympic wrestling champ (Greco-Roman, heavyweight division), had his latest close call over the weekend. Seems a small plane he was traveling in with two other men crashed in Utah’s Good Hope Bay, forcing them to swim more than an hour in frigid water and spend the night ashore without shelter. Miraculously, only the plane suffered serious injury.

“Pretty amazing,” a district ranger said. “If these guys were a cat with nine lives, they just used up three of them.”

Pretty amazing, indeed. But just another day for Rulon. This kind of thing is always happening to him — and, so far, he has always lived to tell about it. Not long after he won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, he got stranded in the hinterlands on a snowmobile trip and lost most of a toe to frostbite. A couple of years later, he went flying over the handlebars in a motorcycle crash … and didn’t even miss practice that day. Another time, according to Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, he “accidentally impaled himself on a hunting arrow and walked to the hospital.”

Then there was his ill-considered match in 2004 with Olympic judo champ Hidehiko Yoshida — a mixed martial arts bout with few rules. He could have gotten himself killed then, too, but shocked the world by not only surviving but winning.

I’m tellin’ ya, this guy is made for TV. For starters, he clearly has a Double Gulp-sized thirst for adventure (three divorces, one appearance on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”). He also can do a pretty good imitation of the late Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character — and not just because they have the same shape (around 300 pounds) and occupation (motivational speaker). A newspaper reporter was greatly entertained recently when Gardner croaked, “My name is Matt Foley, and I’m a motivational speaker. I’m 35 years old, and I live in a van down by the river.”

Who knows why Rulon is the way he is? Perhaps it stems from being the youngest of nine children — and always having to fight for attention or keep up with the older kids. With the right producer, though, his show could be more popular than “The Daly Planet” or that season of “The Bachelor” that starred Jesse Palmer, the Giants’ backup quarterback.

The format is the key. With Gardner, you don’t want to do anything too stagey — like tie him to some railroad tracks or stick him in a water-filled sphere for a week. Just let him be himself — a Life-Threatening Situation Waiting to Happen. To help things along, make sure he has at his disposal every conceivable form of transportation — plane, motorcycle, snowmobile, helicopter, hang glider, hot air balloon, gondola, pogo stick, you name it. You never know when he might get the urge.

And when Rulon does get rollin’, point him in the direction of a remote area, maybe even an uncharted one. That’ll increase his chances of (a.) getting lost (very dramatic), (b.) developing frostbite (even more dramatic) or (c.) having to eat his Sound Man to stay alive (never before seen on television). Heck, if he’s lucky, he might even bump into Rambo.

Another possibility: Other athletes could make guest appearances on the show and talk about their narrow escapes — Ben Roethlisberger, for instance. (Then he and Gardner could go drag racing on their Harleys, preferably without helmets.)

Or how about a “Snowboarding with Vladimir Radmanovic” segment? That one’s got “avalanche” written all over it.

No need to worry about Rulon, though. He always emerges unscathed — give or take a digit. Talk about having a rabbit’s foot in your pocket. After this latest escapade, he’s probably planning a sequel to his autobiography, “Never Stop Pushing.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was a bestseller, especially if he comes up with a catchy title like: “… And Never Stop a Plane in the Middle of a Lake, Either.”

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