Advertisement

Archive for Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gardner still has luck on his side

Olympian wrestler, who lost toe to frostbite, survives small plane crash into Lake Powell

February 27, 2007

Advertisement

Scrambling out of a downed, waterlogged airplane, swimming to shore through an icy cold lake, spending the night exposed in the freezing, desert chill, then walking away with little more than bumps and bruises and the urgent need of a nice, warm bed.

Harrowing close calls are becoming a habit for Rulon Gardner, Olympic wrestling champion-turned-escape artist.

There was the time he lost a toe to frostbite after being stranded in the wilderness. He also was involved in a serious motorcycle accident and way back in third grade, he impaled himself with an arrow.

Now this. Gardner's weekend brush with death was the third since he unbelievably captured the gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It happened when a small airplane he was riding in crashed into Lake Powell's aptly named Good Hope Bay, near the Arizona-Utah border.

"I should be dead," Gardner told the Associated Press on Monday. "I shouldn't be on the earth today."

Gardner and the two other men in the plane, brothers Randy and Leslie Brooks, swam to shore through the 44-degree water and spent Saturday night on the banks without shelter. On Sunday morning, they spotted a fisherman, chased him down and got a ride back to safety.

None of the men were left with major injuries. The 35-year-old Gardner said his hip hurt and he believed he might have sustained a concussion when the plane hit the water. But he never lost consciousness. If he had, he might have drowned.

"I don't know where to put it," he said when asked to compare this to his other near escapes. "It was pretty intense."

Five years ago, he was snowmobiling in Wyoming when he became separated from a friend while trying to pass over a ridge in deep snow. As he struggled to find his way back, he fell into an icy river several times.

He wound up stranded overnight. His body temperature fell to 88 degrees. He saved himself that time by finding a cluster of trees and digging into the snow to wait the night out. He contorted himself into strange positions, trying not to let himself fall asleep, afraid that if he did, he would freeze to death.

He lost a toe to frostbite after that close call, but still made it back to the Athens Olympics, where he won a bronze medal and left his shoes on the mat - the symbolic gesture in wrestling that signals retirement.

Shortly before his final Olympics, Gardner was struck by an automobile while riding a motorcycle to practice.

That time, he walked away with only minor abrasions and a sore left heel.

When he was a kid, he punctured his abdomen while playing with a bow and arrow while his parents were out of town. The doctor said Gardner had just missed puncturing a vital organ.

On his latest near-death experience, Gardner and his friends were in a Cirrus SR 22, flying above Lake Powell.

The trip was to see Randy Brooks' houseboat from the air, but the small plane was flying low, and it suddenly dipped and began clipping the surface of the water. It stopped on the lake and began sinking.

"I was saying, 'This can't be happening right now,"' Gardner said.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.