Greg and Roxanne (Rahn) Gardner have been able to soar again on the wings of their fellow Redbirds, who helped pull the couple and their three daughters through a lengthy season of pain and suffering.
Greg Gardner’s life-changing accident was a rallying cry for his Illinois State wrestling comrades, who responded immediately with the goal of sustaining their teammate as he literally retooled his mind and body to begin a radically different life chapter.
They have not left Greg’s side during the seven years since his 2005 accident, remaining a faithful resource for everything from raising funds to scheduling fun.
“We just felt it was the natural thing to do for one of our brothers,” said Mark Mammen ’91. “We were always a tightknit group of guys on that wrestling team.”
The men have remained close despite the fact their sport was eliminated by the University as part of a difficult Title IX gender equity management decision.
The men’s wrestling and soccer teams were disbanded, with a women’s soccer team added in 1995. The competition ended, but the relationships and memories remain strong, especially for Mark and Greg. They were high school rivals who became close friends at Illinois State, practicing against each other as Redbirds and serving as team captains their senior year.
Now the director of industrial rehabilitation at Safeworks Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Mark is a member of the School of Kinesiology and Recreation Academic Advisory Committee. His daughter, Miranda, is currently enrolled at ISU, where Mark made lifelong friendships.
He joins his former teammates for a reunion every year or two, with about 20 typically attending. And when they hear of a need, they respond. Mark learned of Greg’s accident while coaching at a wrestling meet in Peoria. He was at Greg’s hospital bed the next day, and still plans regular visits.
“Those actions are powerful,” Roxanne said, remembering the tears she and Greg shared when the wrestling cohort walked into a Springfield fundraiser with cash in hand to show their support.
“We are a fraternity of brothers,” Greg said, voicing appreciation for the faithfulness of his collegiate friends. In addition to Mammen, the group includes John Kane ’90, Kevin Bracken ’95, Mike Meluch ’94, Tim Allegretti ’90, Mickey Marchese ’90, and Chuck Wagner ’93.
Beyond their bond as student-athletes, they all share an enormous respect for Greg.
“He is a fighter and a tough competitor. He will never give up,” Mark said. “I am very proud of the way he has responded to his situation and what he is doing with it. He’s a huge inspiration to a lot of people, including myself.”