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#TGW: Believing Is Seeing

April 2, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Senior triple-jumper Jonathan Gardner has seen a lot in his Georgia Tech career, yet he’d never seen anything like what he saw last Monday after practice.

Courtesy of Athletic Trainer Paul Wolkoff’s iPad, Gardner saw his picture on the home page of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) web site. He’d been named the Division I Men’s National Athlete of the Week after winning the long jump at the Alabama Relays in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on March 20-22.

“I always wanted to be on their website,” recalled Gardner, who won the event with a leap of 15.87 meters (52-0.75), easily out-distancing the nearest competitor, Georgia sophomore Jamarion Calhoun (15.15 meters, 49-08.50). “I always see the national champions or world champions on the website. I had never gotten on the website before so I was like, ‘Look at that. That’s pretty cool.’

“The girl that won (Duke sophomore pole vaulter Megan Clark) also was from the ACC,” he added. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool. We’re both from the ACC and we’re both doing well.’ A lot of people will say that the ACC is not as good as the SEC, not as good as the Pac-12 and all these other conferences. This made my heart happy to see two ACC athletes at the top of the nation. I went and found her on Facebook and told her congratulations in a message.”

Further congratulations were in order the next day when Gardner was named ACC Male Performer of the Week.

Gardner earning those honors wouldn’t normally qualify as beyond the scope of believability. He represented Georgia Tech at last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships and won the triple jump at both the indoor and outdoor ACC Championships.

But Gardner’s achievement was amazing as it came in his first competition on the track since the ‘13 NCAA Outdoors.

Two months after the NCAAs, he suffered a knee injury during a routine weight-training session.

The injury was a shock, especially in the manner in which it occurred. Gardner had just begun a set of squats at 225 pounds — some 75 pounds fewer than his target weight for the day — when he heard a pop that was audible to everyone in the weight room and, left him barely able to walk without help.

“I didn’t know what actually happened because I was back home so I didn’t have any trainers to look at me or anything or make any kind of diagnosis,” said the Chicago native. “A funny thing. I got my grandmother’s cane and I was walking on that for I want to say two weeks. I was slowly trying to walk upstairs, trying to sit down and stand up.

“The biggest challenges are curbs,” he added, with a laugh. “I know it sounds silly and it’s such a small thing. You start walking and you say, ‘Oh it’s a little bit. I’ll ‘just walk down that,’ but then all of a sudden you’re on the ground. So you become really grateful for walking again.”

Gardner had to get surgery before he could walk, however. About a month after the injury, he finally saw Dr. X (Dr. John Xerogeanes), who diagnosed the torn meniscus, and performed the surgery.

As injuries go, the torn meniscus turned out to be lucky for a couple of reasons. First, it wasn’t the anterior cruciate ligament, which can require close to a year of rehab.

“I don’t even want to think about what ACL would have been,” he said. “I’ve heard so many horror stories about it.”

The other bit of good fortune was an abnormality in the size of the cartilage.

“When they did the MRI for it, it turns out I had more meniscus than the average human being,” he said. “Most people’s meniscus is like a disk shape, almost like a boomerang. But mine was more of a flat plate. It had a lot more, so they actually had surgery to cut out the piece that was torn and it almost looks normal now.”

Rehab forced Gardner to miss the indoor season — a shame, as he was First-Team All-ACC in 2013 and won the triple jump at the 2013 ACC Indoor Championships — and was slower than expected.

“I don’t know why it was but it was a really slow rehab process,” he said. “No knock on the trainers. I know they did everything. They know what they’re doing. They’re professionals.”

While he lost patience, he never lost faith. He never does.

In fact, Gardner credits his faith for him pushing himself during one specific weight-lifting session, during which he not only turned the corner in rehab, but regained his pre-injury strength.

“God pretty much told me, ‘Why are you acting like you’re not healed? You’re healed. Start acting like it,’” he said. “The next set I loaded up. I did it, I was lifting it and it was fine. Just like that, boom, I’m back on the track, I’m back warming up with 225. I’m back deadlifting 500 pounds. I’m back just like that.”

He’s also back in the winner’s circle, as he’s 2-for-2 in triple jump competitions, following his win in Tuscaloosa with a victory in last weekend’s Yellow Jacket Invitational at Griffin Track.

Admittedly not at his most focused, Gardner went 15.54 meters (51’ even) to out-distance the only other competitor in the event, Alabama’s George Freiberger (14.37meters, 47-01.75).

“I got really distracted at the Georgia Tech meet. It was really an unprofessional move and it was my fault,” he said. “But I’m really happy that I can still come out and even when I’m not at my best, still produce a good jump and come out with a win.”

Gardner, who also performed well in the long jump, finishing fourth (7.14m, 23-05.25), doesn’t plan on trying that theory out again this Saturday when he competes in the Florida Relays in Gainesville, Fla.

“I want to see what I can really do,” he said. “At Alabama, it was a little foreign to me because I hadn’t done it in so long and even at Georgia Tech I wasn’t really ready to jump. I’m prepared for this meet now and I know I’ll be ready for it this weekend.”

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