This was a man who had run marathons, competed in bicycle races, played football and hockey and coached cross-country at Comstock High School.
Worse, when he sought relief through surgery, doctors told him he was too young for a hip replacement. The artificial joint, they said, would not last long enough.
"From where I was without surgery, the bone-on-bone kept me from doing much of anything," Gardner said. "I figured that I could end up in a wheelchair or on crutches permanently."
Gardner assumed that his hip problems were from an inherited tendency since his mother also had arthritis.
In 2003, however, Gardner heard a talk at the Borgess Medical Center Lawrence Education Center by Dr. Robert Morren, an orthopedic surgeon at K Valley Orthopedics. Morren's emphasis on the importance of the quality of life resonated with Gardner.
He set an appointment with Morren, who subsequently agreed to do the surgery.
In July 2003, Morren implanted a Stryker artificial hip at Borgess Medical Center. He chose the Jack Nicholas Trident ceramic-on-ceramic hip model since it was the one used by golfer Jack Nicholas and is designed for younger patients.
Morren not only performs surgery at Borgess, but the hospital has a unique 10-bed Joint Replacement Center.
Gardner and other patients begin the center's program before surgery by participating in education sessions on how to prepare for surgery. They also begin home-based exercises to strengthen key muscles that will be important in speeding healing.
After surgery patients work together as a team in groups and individually to learn how to care for their joints and regain as much mobility as possible.
The spirit of camaraderie doesn't just serve as motivation but is associated with better outcomes, both physically and mentally.
Under the guidance of the Borgess team of experts, Gardner rode his bike as much as he could tolerate prior to surgery to get into better shape. He also put himself on the South Beach Diet, shedding some 30 pounds as another way to help speed recovery.
Gardner said that one of the benefits of the Joint Replacement Center is the "team" concept, where patients who are farther along in their healing serve as inspiration for others.
The first surgery led to major gains in mobility and a significant reduction in pain, Gardner said. Still, his other hip was increasingly troublesome and he knew that another surgery was inevitable.
In February 2004 he underwent surgery again.
"The second surgery was easier to recover from," Gardner said. "I actually looked forward to the second surgery."
The results were even more dramatic.
"To go from pain prior to surgery to no pain is incredible," Gardner said. "Prior to the first surgery I could only mow the lawn for four or five minutes and had to rest. I would have to drag my left leg. There were times when I would almost cry.
"I was always dealing with pain, and not just physical pain. It's depressing when you can't do what you want to do."
Today Gardner's hip pain is but a memory and he no longer need pain medications. He has ridden his mountain bike more than 4,000 miles this year and competed in more than a half-dozen races.
He urges others with pain to seek help.
"Look at it from the arthritic point of view," he said. "If your pain is from muscles, it will be sore but not like joint pain. With arthritis pain, when I sat and read, all that would be in the back of my mind was the throbbing pain."
Gardner retired from teaching in June and hops on his bike at least once a day.
"A day without a ride is a sad day," he said. "Every ride is a vacation for me. I never rode as much before because I was teaching, but now that I'm retired I go when I want."
And while he continues to compete, he rides smart.
"I took a crash last fall and landed on my left hip," he said. "It scared the heck out of me, but it was OK."
Mountain bike races are often over treacherous terrain and he practices safe riding techniques on bike trails such as those at Fort Custer near Battle Creek.
Gardner said he picked Borgess for the surgery because of past experiences with the hospital and its staff.
"I have an insect sting allergy and a near-death experience," he said. "The Borgess people fixed me up. They are nice people, very friendly."
"Borgess is a good place. When I hear someone mention the name Borgess, it brings good memories for me. I have a lot of trust and faith in them."
And gratitude for what they did for him.
"Life without cycling would have been tough," he said. "It's a passion for me. Without hip surgery I probably would have found something else I could have done disc golf or hiking if I could. But it's not the same passion."
"I could have stopped biking, but I wouldn't have the quality of life. I want that quality of life.
"Hip replacement surgery brought my world back to me."
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