Friday, April 8, 2011

Spice: Up close and personal with Sam Gardner

MISFORTUNES never come alone — they come in threes. For Sam Gardner, it did come in threes for him: spraining his calf, suffering from stomach flu, and sustaining scrapes while training.

Sam Gardner tells Variety that he is uncertain about his chances of winning XTERRA Saipan this year in an interview March 11. Gardner won the race the following day. Although he does not really believe in superstitions, Gardner was worried about his chances of defending his XTERRA Saipan title days before arriving on Saipan.

In his correspondences with Variety, he was looking forward to enjoying his maiden trip to the Philippines; however, his bout with stomach flu after the race kept him indoors.

In an interview on March 11, Gardner said he thought the stomach flu would go away in 24 hours. Sadly, he said he’s still reeling from the effects of it and doubted his chances of defending his title.

Gardner said he was physically well on his way to the Philippines. “It’s all basically well this year until three weeks ago. I did a race — big race in England about five weeks ago, a duathlon. Then a week or two after that, I went skiing. I managed to injure my calf basically.”

Winning XTERRA Philippines

Gardner won XTERRA Philippines on March 6. He managed to win the race despite complaining of calf pain while running. “I could tell my calf was hurting while I was running.”

Asked by Variety if he had it checked, Gardner said he hasn’t seen the doctor yet although he knew what was wrong with it.

After the March 6 race, he had another thing to worry about. Gardner had to deal with a case of a stomach flu.

“I had this stomach bug. At the party after the race, they had all drinks in an ice cooler, and because my calf was hurting, I was using the ice on my leg,” said Gardner.

Little did he know that the ice in the glass he drank from was not meant for drinking.

He realized it after another triathlete drank the same water and was sick the following day.

Usually, Gardner said, it would only last a day and he would be fine the next day. With the last one, it lingered for more than five days.

“We stayed in Cebu until Wednesday evening (March 9),” he said.

Philippines vs Saipan raceU.K.’s Sam Gardner relaxes after winning the XTERRA Saipan Championship on March 12. In a post-race interview, Gardner told Variety he felt light-headed during the race but he soldiered on. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

Asked by Variety how the Saipan race compares with the inaugural XTERRA Philippines, Gardner said, “It’s a lot flatter in the bike course. It’s probably a lot faster. Here [on Saipan] it’s really hilly and hard. In the Philippines, there’s one short technical section — maybe 400 meters long whereas here there are more equal sections. I’d say it is harder here definitely,” he said.

Comparing XTERRA Saipan with its Guam counterpart, Gardner said, “It’s harder here than Guam — a lot longer really.”

Coming back to Saipan

Gardner confides he loves going back to Saipan. “I just love the race here. I love it — it’s a bit more relaxing compared to some of the European races because we are out here for a longer time. We are away for like a month. With European races, you just go on a Thursday and go home on a Sunday night. Everything’s sort of a rush to get to the race — you get everything ready. Bike on the course, race and rush home.”

For Gardner, coming to Saipan allows him to relax and enjoy the company of friends like he would on a holiday.

Married life and racing

The firefighter from Windsor married his girlfriend of two years whom he met at a running track in Windsor where they now live.

He proposed after the XTERRA World Championship last year. He told Variety that it was at a restaurant in Maui the day after the race “using the ring off the car keys for the rental car.”

In a separate interview with Mrs. Gardner, she told Variety that she and Sam had been very good friends for a long time before they got together. “He was good fun to be around and very charming.”

She also shared with Variety a little secret. On their first trip to XTERRA Japan in 2008, Mrs. Gardner said Sam nearly got them both arrested. “Sam nearly got us both arrested trying to do swim training between Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima. Luckily the Coast Guards who picked us up were triathlon fans and let him off.”

Now that she and Sam are married, Variety asked how do the races fit into his schedule and Susan’s, whether it affects the way he chooses the race now. He replied, “A little bit. I am certainly not keen to doing races that I don’t enjoy. I want to do races more that I do enjoy. Whereas before, I felt I had to do the European races in a year. This year, I am not going to miss the European ones and just do the races I want to do.”

Gardner said his wife — who works as a scientist for a drug company in England — loves coming to the races. “She especially loves Saipan.”

Mrs. Gardner also told Variety that as much as she would like to go to as many races as she can, “I am limited by the amount of holiday I get from work but I always try to go to Saipan and Hawaii.”

Although she previously competed in Tagaman, Mrs. Gardner is going to stay in the sidelines and root for her husband.

Asked on his secret to his successful campaign, without batting an eyelash, he said, “It’s Susan.”

He said Mrs. Gardner has been helpful with checking his time and knowing what he needs.

And Gardner let Variety in on another secret — their schedule may change in the coming year.

“Next year might be different because hopefully we’ll have a baby on the way. It’s the plan though we can’t plan these things exactly. So we shall see if we manage to get here next year,” he said.

For Mrs. Gardner, regardless of their plan to have a baby next year, “”I’m sure we’ll still manage to go on as many holidays as possible.”

In the meantime, his big plan, he said, is to hopefully be fit enough to win a PIC double again.

Winning a PIC double award allows him to come back to Saipan with airfare and hotel accommodation covered by the organizers.

“That is the plan really to keep coming back for as many years possible and have a nice holiday out here,” said Gardner.

How he decides on races?

Gardner, whose athletic career began in 1987 and has won quite a number of races in Europe and in Asia, told Variety how he chooses his races.

“There are a number of races. First of all, I like to go to new places which sounds like a bit of a contradiction as I have been to Saipan a lot of times. If I had been to the places before, I guess, a lot of it is the weather. The weather in England is cold winter. Coming out here at the moment, I’d like to get lots of sunshine.”

He said he prefers coming out in March especially coming from a place where there’s snow. “That is the big thing.”

The heat is on

Despite the absence of his archrival Mike Vine — who has given him a good race for the last two consecutive years — Gardner admitted the race isn’t in the bag yet.

Among the professional triathletes, in Vine’s absence, he considered Takahiro Ogasawara as his tough competitor.

“We had a few good battles in the past,” he said.

On March 12, he beat Ogasawara by 11 minutes.

In a post-race interview, Gardner confessed that it was more of a relief for him as he downplayed his chances of winning either XTERRA and Tagaman considering he is not in 100 percent good shape this year.

But he’ll soldier on. He said it now boils down to mental fortitude.

As he bids to defend his Tagaman title tomorrow, everything will come into play. “Every detail and second count.”

For Gardner, he’s only as good as his last race. Tomorrow is another day.

Spice is Marianas Variety’s newest section that talks about people with interesting lives and events that matter on the island. For comments and suggestions, email avz@mvariety.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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