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#STINGDAILY: Keeping Faith

June 9, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

It was pretty clear to anybody paying attention to Jonathan Gardner that the Georgia Tech junior triple jumper was having issues when he started off Saturday at the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.

His first two efforts were just over 45 feet and then just over 44, both well below the baseline in the event let alone his career best of 52’4” earlier in the school year. He was struggling to even walk upon crawling out of the sand pit.

“I just knew on those first two that there were problems,” Gardner said. “I’ve been having pain in both my legs, but especially because of an inflamed tendon behind my left knee.”

Gardner has also battled intermittent problems with his right hamstring. He kept the faith, though, because that’s what he does. Gardner eventually went 52 feet, 2 ¾ inches. That triple held up for seventh place and earned All-America honors.

In a way, it wasn’t a surprise. That tendon issue has been a bother since before the ACC Indoor Championships, yet Gardner won the title there. Pain persisted through the spring, yet he won the ACC outdoor title as well.

“With everything that’s been going on with my body and these injuries, the only thing that’s kept me in the game is my relationship with God,” Gardner said. “He’s taken me through all of this. I couldn’t even walk when I got out of the pit.

“But he knows that I needed him to come through for me. To win indoors on a hurt leg, win outdoors on a hurt leg, be All-America on a hurt leg . . . it just goes to show that when God is in charge what you can do.”

Rest is the best medicine for the inflamed tendon, but with all the nuance that goes into triple jumping, “that really hasn’t been an option,” Gardner said. “There is always technique to improve, and you always want to get faster and stronger.”

Gardner and Tech’s other jumpers spend part of their time training with the team’s sprinters. He was a sprinter and a long jumper at Chicago’s Whitney M. Young Magnet High School when as a freshman he saw the triple jump and said, “I can do that.”

Why, yes he can.

And unless you already know, you might be surprised to learn what goes into training for the triple jump.

Beyond working on takeoffs, triple jumpers spend considerable time in the weight room working to build explosive leg strength. You ought to see those guys running up and down the football field while wearing weighted vests.

There is tremendous stress placed upon the human body in the process of triple jumping.

“There’s a lot of force on each leg,” he said. “Lot of cleans and squats in the weight room . . . a lot of strength training. We do a lot of drills with weight vests, resistance bands, running the football field with that weight on. There is so much weight that you have to come off the ground with.”

Gardner could offer a very detailed explanation to anyone with the time; he knows a thing or two about getting off the ground.

He’s an aerospace engineering major, and in fact – even though he was traveling most of the day Sunday from Oregon through Salt Lake City and then to Atlanta – Gardner today will begin his summer internship with the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

At the Aerospace, Transportation and Advanced Systems laboratory in Smyrna, Gardner will continue another passion.

“[Aerospace] is such a wide field. I had no idea that acoustics were tied into aerospace. When I first got there . . . one of the first projects was for NASA to test materials to see what would be best material to suffocate noise coming off a jet engine,” he said of an earlier internship.

“I like what I’m doing. I just think it’s fun to do something new . . . I would like to work with GTRI, that would be fantastic. But if I were to work with Lockheed or Boeing . . . I’d be happy with that, too. If you asked me to do anything in aero, I’ll be happy.”

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