Christy Gardner winds up to throw a practice shot on her homemade throwing platform, which simulates what is used in Paralympic competition, inside Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility in Auburn in January, right before she left Maine to train in California. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Christy Gardner received an opportunity earlier this year to live her dream of competing in the Paralympics in Tokyo later this summer.

The Lewiston native was invited to go to Chula Vista, California, in February to start training for the shot put and discus events. She ranks fifth in the world in the shot put — her best this year was 9.8 meters — and 11th in the discus, thought she hasn’t practiced that event much this year.

Christy Gardner winds up to throw a practice shot on her homemade throwing platform inside Ingersoll Arena Turf Facility in Auburn in January. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I was invited out to train at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center,” Gardner said. “It’s basically the Olympic training center site for the fair-weather sports like track and field, rowing, rugby, BMX, beach volleyball, field hockey and rowing.”

Things were going well for the first two months for Gardner, a double-amputee after suffering injuries while in military in 2006 while serving as a Sergeant in the United States Army Military Police in Asia. She was training with the Paralympic coaches to get ready for the United States Paralympic trials, which were scheduled for late June in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“We have our own track, massive throwing area,” Gardner said. “I had my own throwing ring and enclosure, plus shade tent area and gear storage.

“We also have a massive strength and conditioning facility and private one-on-one training with a strength coach. Additionally, we meet regularly with a team nutritionist and have access to sports medicine like athletic training and massage/mobility services.”

Meals were also provided to the athletes.

Everything started to change with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and last month the International Olympic Commitee announced the postponement of the summer games for both the Olympics and Paralympics. Also postponed were the Paralympic trials.

This past weekend, Gardner said, an athlete tested positive for the virus that has shut down the training center.

“The athlete tested positive (last) Friday and an email went out to coaches Saturday,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, my coach hadn’t seen the notification, so I showed up (on Monday) only to be told to pack up my gear. It took two car loads and I was able to get my issued lunch while I was there.”

As many of the athletes left the Chula Vista, the 38-year-old Gardner had no choice to stay behind.

Unlike most of the athletes — most of whom are in high school, college or a recent graduate — Gardner couldn’t access the training center dorms because of all her equipment (wheelchair, throwing equipment and prosthetic equipment) and her two service dogs, Moxie and Douglas. Instead, Gardner had to get an apartment off campus.

Now, she’s stuck there, between a rock and a hard place.

“Right now, there’s nowhere to work out and nowhere to throw, so I can’t really train at all,” said Gardner, who also is on the United States women’s national ice sledge hockey team and the New England Warriors sledge hockey team. “Plus, it’s $5,000 to break my lease, and all of my fundraisers to help afford this Paralympic dream were canceled or postponed due to the virus.

Christy Gardner sets up to train in the throwing area at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Submitted photo

“I’m not sure I can afford to keep my lease due to that, but I also can’t afford to break my lease, either. It especially stinks because I put my whole life on hold to chase this dream, and now it’s costing me a small fortune and not helping me get closer to the dream.”

In addition to leasing an apartment through September, which costs $3,000 a month between rent and utilities, she also owns a house in Lewiston has bills to pay at home.

She doesn’t know if there will be any help available from the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the nonprofit United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

“Not at this time,” Gardner said. “I’m not sure if it’s something they’re looking into or not or even how many of us are in this boat. A large number of athletes are younger and live on campus, so they went home.”

Gardner now plays the waiting game regarding her next move. She is holding out hope that the training ban is lifted before September so she can continue to train for next year’s Paralympic trials and Olympic games.


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