Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner has cheated death twice, first after becoming stranded during a snowy wilderness trip and again by surviving a small plane crash into a chilly Lake Powell.
Recently weighing in at 474 pounds, Gardner hopes to save the personal future he has threatened with his morbid obesity.
"My sister Geri is a cardiologist, and she told me my heart is enlarged," said Gardner, a former competitive Greco-Roman wrestler who made his debut on television's "The Biggest Loser" on Tuesday.
Gardner, now 39, spoke Friday with reporters about his reasons for going on the show.
"I have made it (my heart) work so hard for so many years," he said. "I have to take some accountability."
Gardner, who lives in Logan, said he didn't realize how large he was until last summer. The night after being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Gardner was in his hotel room, eating fast food and watching the news coverage on TV.
"I almost didn't recognize myself on TV," he said. "I'd gained so much weight. I said, 'Holy cow, this is truly embarrassing.' I realized my health had started to become an issue."
Gardner said his doctor told him his weight could make it harder to start the family he and his wife desire. And Gardner had a fear that he wouldn't survive to see a child of his grow up.
If a heart attack or other obesity-related disease kills him in 10 years, Gardner said, "I don't want somebody else raising my babies. I don't want somebody else sleeping in my bed."
Gardner is one of four Utah contestants in this season's "Biggest Loser."
Justin Pope, of Logan, is Gardner's friend and partner in their Logan business, the Rulon Gardner Elite Training Center.
A second Utah duo is Denise Hill, of Bountiful, and her daughter Sarah.
Gardner earned gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and took home a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens games. After injuries and retirement in 2004, Gardner decided to give himself an extended break.
"I thought, 'Let me give my body some time to heal up,' " Gardner told reporters. "I had nagging injuries and wanted to give my body a year."
But that was six years ago, and Gardner never got back into a training routine. He continued to indulge in meals, snacks and late-night fast-food binges, all without burning off the extra calories.
He was about 200 pounds over his Olympic weight when producers accepted him for "The Biggest Loser."
Gardner said the first week of training at the "Biggest Loser" ranch was harder for him than training for the Olympics, all because of the 200 pounds he had gained.
The show tapes well in advance to allow editing time. Gardner was not allowed to reveal his current weight or recent developments on the ranch, where the contestants live together.
He did say that speaking honestly has caused upset, and that in the game and in life, a large, strong man can be perceived as a bully simply because his size is intimidating.
Gardner said he chose to be on the reality television show, seen worldwide, because he would be embarrassed to fail. And so far, his strategy has kept him working hard.
"I can already see my body is making the transformation back to what it was when I wrestled in the Olympics," he said.
"For me, it's being alive that is important. You have one chance to go through life, and near-death experiences I have been through have nearly taken my life. There was a point where I didn't care if I died. I had done more than most people do in their lives."
His wife told him there are plenty of joys ahead in real life: fatherhood and long life with a wife who loves him.
"I finally saw it was not just all about me," Gardner said. "It's about me and her, being happy as long as we can on this Earth. And being a Mormon, we believe families can be together forever. That's what I want."