Longtime Athletic Trainer Prepares for Last Game
Gardner Helped Develop UT Dallas Program After Long Pro Sports Career
Dec. 17, 2009
Larry Gardner, a longtime UT Dallas athletic trainer who helped form the Comets’ fulltime training program back in 2001, has announced that his 40-plus year career in training will come to an end Dec. 31.
Gardner, 69, whose training career has included positions in the National Football League, Professional Rodeo Association, Stanford University, and professional auto racing, was honored at a departmental holiday luncheon earlier this week. He will work his last UT Dallas athletic event on Sunday, Dec. 20, when the Comets host McMurry in a basketball doubleheader.
The retirement announcement comes just weeks after Gardner led his staff to its third American Southwest Conference East Division Training Staff of the Year Award in the past five years.
Gardner came out of “semi-retirement” in 2001 to help begin UT Dallas’ athletic training program.
The fledgling UT Dallas athletic program was beginning to expand and needed a fulltime trainer to handle the growing number of student-athletes. “It was an opportunity to start a program from the ground up,” Gardner explains. “It’s not hard to be pretty good if you’re the first.”
Never mind that Gardner was already 60 years old and had long since wound down a career that had included trips to three different Super Bowls and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
“I missed the athletic training part of it,” says Gardner. “Training and treatment was what I did best, and what I enjoyed the most,” he says. “This became one of the best jobs I ever had.”
Gardner got connected with the local sports scene back in 1964 when the Dallas Cowboys were training in California and looking for a new head trainer. Though only 25 years at the time (“I told them I was 26 so they wouldn’t think I was too young,” he says), Gardner impressed Coach Tom Landry and the team brass, and stayed with the team through its 1972 Super Bowl championship. He still knows enough humorous, behind-the-scenes stories about Cowboy characters like Don Meredith, Walt Garrison and others to fill several volumes.
Gardner left the Cowboys in 1973 to join the Miami Dolphins, a year after the Dolphins’ famous 17-0 season. “Though we won a Super Bowl in 1973, (Miami Coach Don) Shula used to joke that I was the only difference between the team that went undefeated, and the team that lost just two games that next year. He said it must have been my fault.”
In 1974, Gardner left professional sports to begin a 26-year portion of his career that included work with various local sports medicine facilities and orthopedic manufacturing companies. During that time, he occasionally dabbled in contract work with the PRCA and CART, the professional Championship Auto Racing Team.
“By 2001, I was mostly retired, but saw the listing for the job at UTD,” he recalls. “I remembered how much I liked working one-on-one with athletes, and thought this sounded like a unique opportunity to get back into the work I loved.”
“This job has given me the opportunity to work with a great group of people; coaches and student-athletes who are truly appreciative of what we can do for them. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Gardner’s credentials made him a perfect candidate for the position, and he has been here since.
“This job has given me the opportunity to work with a great group of people, coaches and student-athletes who are truly appreciative of what we can do for them. You can’t ask for much more than that.”
Gardner earned his bachelor’s degree in 1961 from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., and became a nationally certified and state licensed athletic trainer. He became a licensed physical therapist in 1962 after completing training at Hermann Hospital School of Physical Therapy in Houston and worked two years at the University of California-Berkeley before landing his first head trainer position at Stanford University in 1964. He joined the Cowboys in 1965.
He has been active for many years with the National Athletic Trainers Association, serving as vice president of research and education in 1993. He served four years as an executive board member of the Southwest Athletic Trainers Association and was president of that organization in 1995.