Gardner overcomes injury, returns to state meet

Several months ago when she suffered a torn ACL while playing basketball, the odds of Raelyn Gardner competing at all in track and field this season appeared slim, with the chances of a return trip to the OHSAA Track & Field Championships in Columbus even slimmer.

Fast forward some four months and the recent Warren Warrior graduate finds herself set to return to the state championships at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.

After loads of physical therapy and even more hard work, Gardner clinched her second consecutive trip to state by claiming the top spot in last week’s regional pole vaulting competition in New Concord with a jump of 11 feet three inches.

“It was a good accomplishment and I am just so happy to get the chance to go back to state,” said the 4-foot-11 inch Gardner, who also secured a spot on the podium at the regionals with an eighth place finish in the 100 meter dash. “I am just going to go and do the best I can and see how far up I can go.”

Last season Gardner pole vaulted an even 11-feet at state to tie for eighth place, a height she has eclipsed by some six inches in her senior year as she broke the all-time Warren school record with a jump of 11-6 at the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League meet at Gallia Academy in May.

Sally Maddox, Gardner’s coach at Warren, looks for the trip she made to Columbus in 2013 to pay dividends at this years meet.

“Raelyn is experienced and knows what state is like,” said Maddox. “Her knee hasn’t slowed her down at all and we’re hoping for the best at state. She has a lot of desire, guts and courage.”

In addition to Maddox, Gardner was quick to compliment her pole vaulting coach Pat Wigal with helping her get back to state.

“He’s got to be one of the best pole vaulting coaches around,” said Gardner of Wigal. “There is just no way I would be going back to state without him and he gives me a lot of confidence.”

Another pair of individuals instrumental in Gardner’s success are her parents Stormy and Melody.

“My parents have been my biggest supporters,” said Raelyn Gardner, who claims she got her athletic ability from her mother but her speed from her dad. “They have been right there with me through it all.”

Gardner is scheduled to compete at 9 a.m Saturday morning and would like nothing more than to improve at least three positions from last year’s competition to earn All-State status.

“I really hope I can improve from last year,” said Gardner, who will likely need to match her career best to place. “I am a bar jumper so I am just going to need to really keep my focus.”