Technique: How did you first get into track?
Gardner: I first got into track when I was a kid, actually. I was about four or five and my oldest brother Judge ran track, and I wanted to do everything he did. I stopped shortly after that and played basketball for seven years into high school, but I didn’t like it. I started running again in my freshman year of high school because I was outrunning everybody on the basketball team. They would put me in to steal the ball and to block shots, just athletic stuff. Basketball is very political in Chicago, and I didn’t like it.
Technique: Do you have any pre-event rituals or superstitions?
Gardner: The week before a meet I really make sure to focus myself on how it’s going to happen. I visualize how I’m going to jump this far, how I’m going to run this fast, how I’m going to get the right technique. I pray a lot and I meditate… The day of the meet, before I go out onto the track, I end up taking a two hour shower. I know it’s really bad … and my roommates get pretty upset with me sometimes. It’s about getting mentally calm and prepared. I’m not a hype-up type of guy before I jump.
Technique: How did you end up at Tech?
Gardner: The aerospace program is second in the nation. Our jump coach (Nat Page) is the best jump coach in the world. Everyone in the world knows him. He has coached so many Olympians and world champions, so the track record for track was a good fit. My jump coach was YouTube in high school, so I knew I would have a good coach and that would help a lot. I’m from Chicago, I’m used to training in the snow, so going somewhere hot was a big deal.
Technique: What made you decide to be an AE major?
Gardner: I want to be a commercial pilot, and I was going to go to Embry-Riddle to do that and take off from there, no pun intended. To be a pilot you either have to go through the military, civilian or schooling. The civilian route cost too much, and my parents were not about the military, so I looked into Embry-Riddle, but they cost $55,000 a year and gave no scholarships.
Technique: What is your favorite track memory?
Gardner: I think it happened a few weeks ago. I was at the Alabama Relays and [UGA was there], and I have a lot of friends on that team. I was jumping and doing well and had the crowd clapping. My last jump was going to be a huge personal record, and the Georgia crowd was cheering for me while I was coming down the runway, and it was loud. I hopped, skipped, jumped and landed in the pit. I hopped out and looked out and everyone started booing. I’ve never heard booing at a track meet, and I’ve been running for eight years. I put my hands up—I thought they were booing me, and I was like ‘I’m sorry. If I could jump further I would have.’ But I looked back and I saw that there was a red flag up (meaning that he stepped over the board), and I realized that they were not booing me, they were booing the officials. That made me so happy, the love from the Georgia athletes and fans, and I’ll never forget that.
Technique: What are your goals for the upcoming ACC Championships?
Gardner: I’m not allowed to say a mark that I want to jump, but my goal is to win triple jump again and the long jump. I have been performing the long jump very well in practice and at the home meet. Just come out, execute, stay focused and do what I got to do to bring home some gold.
Technique: What’s your least favorite thing about track?
Gardner: My least favorite thing is the pain. There’s a lot of physical pain that goes along with it, and when you take that and go try to take a test or do homework or talk to people, it can be very difficult. In my first few years, I ended up not going to class because I could not get out of bed. You have it going on, but you can’t stop the world because of it. You’ve got responsibilities and a lot of people counting on you. You can’t do things halfway in track; every single competition is based on pushing every single muscle in your body to the limit.”