(Written by Andy Wolf, staff writer for The Courier. Story originally published on April 17, 2018).
Austin Gardner came to the University of Findlay as a non-reader.
The men’s basketball team was his calling, after all.
He’ll finish his graduate studies in the summer as the author of a book inspired by his battle with knee injuries throughout his five years at UF.
His book “Change Lives by Changing Yours with Faith, Love, and Motivation” will be released April 25 during a book signing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. at the Center for Student Life and College of Business on the UF campus.
“I kind of went through some injuries and I like to read books now,” Gardner said. “I got into reading because I had more free time.”
Gardner finished his playing career a month ago after starting 30 games at point guard for the Oilers who finished 28-5 and secured a second-straight NCAA Division II Sweet 16 appearance.
His inspiration to pen his journey began long before his story smoothed out.
Going through two knee surgeries in two years tends to produce a lot of free time.
He used reading to pass the hours, largely delving into books by coaches and their motivational stories with an added faith-based underlying message.
“My college career, I hit a couple bumps in the road,” Gardner said. “Some people might think this couldn’t get any worse. There’s a lot of other people that go through worse things, putting life into perspective. I went through that in my first knee surgery and thinking ‘Why me? The world is out to get me.’
“You can easily question that and I guess from there on out I took a different approach.”
Gardner knew he had a compelling story to tell. He started writing two years ago and completed in about 18 months – just before the start of his senior season.
What transpired him was a three-part book produced with a lot of help from others along the way.
The areas of faith, love and motivation – the three areas that helped him – comprise the book’s sections.
“(The faith) part is like diving into the Bible and finding out who you are as a person,” Gardner said. “I went through some tough trails to find out who I was.”
The love portion is as straightforward as it sounds.
“Love what you do, love people around you no matter what, don’t have enemies, don’t have hate,” Gardner said. “That’s what the world suffers with right now is not loving enough.”
Gardner ties faith and love directly to motivation.
“If you have faith and love, why not motivate somebody else along the way?” Gardner said.
Gardner’s incorporates his own journey through the three elements, beginning by detailing who he is with background prior to UF.
After playing sparingly his freshman season, he missed all of 2014-15 due to knee surgery.
He only played in six games in 2016-17 after suffering a season-ending injury to the same knee.
Gardner rehabbed like crazy to return for his senior year.
While he did miss three early games – early as “a small hiccup” – he went out on his terms and stayed injury free the rest of the season.
Though along the way, the questions swirled in his head.
“Is this going to be something that’s going to be going on for the rest of the year?” Gardner said. “Am I going to struggle to get through the rest of the year? Is it so painful where I may have questions on whether or not I should play?”
By January, Gardner hit his full stride health-wise.
The confidence and comfort in his knee made him forget about it all together and kept him going.
As did his faith.
“My faith carried me through all of this because I felt fulfilled and I felt comfortable and I knew god ha a plan for me,” Gardner said.
Gardner soon had a bigger plan in mind, one of self-discovery and growing closer to his faith.
He now hopes to be an inspiration to those going through the same things.
“I wanted to be an inspiration to teams to say that guy never had his head down a day through the tough times I went through,” he said.
Because of it, he’s already taken the first few steps to get into coaching at the college level and is feeling out his options.
“I like being around student-athletes,” Gardner said. “I feel like I can impact their lives in the biggest way possible.”
The book is only available in hard copy and can be preordered soon on Amazon.com by searching the title.
(Gardner, who is from Bowling Green, Ohio, plans to graduate this summer with a Master of Arts in education.)
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