Keyona Gardner, Assistant Coach for boys track and field at West Side Leadership Academy, and her husband, West Side’s Head Coach Rob Gardner were high school rivals.
She qualified for state in the 400-meter dash for West Side her freshman year and her 4x400 relay team were state champions and runners-up in back-to-back years.
He also ran the 400-meter dash, winning state championships two years in a row for Lew Wallace High School.
They knew of each other back then, but not exactly on speaking terms.
“I was actually dating someone he beat at the state meet, so I was kinda not liking him,” said Keyona Gardner at the IHSAA Boys Track and Field Regionals on Thursday.
But that’s all in the past. After reconnecting at a college track meet, they now enjoy working together on the same team to grow West Sides’ current crop of state-hopeful athletes.
“We really relate to [the team] cause we're not that much older than them,” said Rob. “It's easier for us to engage and get them more active on the track. Where they would try to wimp out we could call them out. We might have a dance battle or something like that. We just make it fun, but we make sure that the training is really intense.”
“Our athletes are like our little brothers because we're not that old yet,” she said. “Practice with us is fun. I mean, they hurt, but we think it's fun.”
Off the field, the Gardners bond over late-night development sessions, pouring over practice videos together and perfecting training regiments.
“We love it so much because we ran track too,” said Keyona. “So those late nights, that's like every night."
The couple’s two young sons, eight-year-old Kayden and one-year-old Rocky, are already following in their parents’ tracks. According to Rob, Kayden spent last summer “blowing everybody up” with his 200-meter dash skills.
“It’s fun training together,” said Kayden.
While Keyona was pregnant with Rocky, Rob made sure she kept running and working out. And the toddler wasted no time in following suit.
“[He’s] never been slow and steady,” Keyona said. “He's just fast. He just runs.”
The Gardners already plan on seeing their youngest beat Rob’s high school record in the 400-meter.
“We're going to start him early, we're gonna develop him,” Rob said. “He’s gotta run faster than me.”
“Being a track family, this is what we do,” Keyona said. “This is what we love. Period.”
“This is what we care about,” said Kayden, correcting his mom. “Exclamation point.”