Lawrence Resident Earns First Governor's Hometown Health Hero Award

Aug. 8, 2006

Don “Red Dog” Gardner, who has conducted the annual “Red Dog’s Dog Days” free summer activity program at KU for the past 23 years, will receive the first Hometown Health Hero Award created by the Governor’s Council on Fitness, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius announced today.<?xml:namespace prefix=”o” ns=”urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office”?>

Gardner, a Lawrence resident, will receive the award at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, at Memorial Stadium on the University of Kansas campus. Gardner and a group of volunteers conduct three daily 45-minute activity workouts each summer. The 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday sessions bring area residents of all ages and activity levels to the stadium for a brisk stretching, calisthenics and aerobic activity workout.

“Don Gardner and his commitment to helping Kansans maintain a regular physical activity schedule epitomizes the leadership and qualities that make a Hometown Health Hero,” Gov. Sebelius said. “Don’s selfless gift of time and energy to the community of Lawrence is greatly appreciated.

The Governor’s Council on Fitness established the Hometown Health Hero Award in support of the Healthy Kansas initiative. The Governor and the Council seek to recognize the efforts of individuals across the state that have either had a significant impact upon their community or a great personal achievement in the areas of physical activity, promoting healthy diets or working to prevent tobacco use in Kansas.

Since 1984, Dog Days has grown from six or seven athletes into a community event with an average attendance in the morning and evening of 450-500 individuals and an average of 150 people at noon. Gardner runs a twice-daily session in June and then three-times-a-day workouts in July and August.

In June, Dog Days set a morning attendance record of 640 people. All individuals check-in with organizers prior to each session to record their attendance, and those attending 25 or more sessions earn a coveted `Red Dog’s Dog Days’ t-shirt.

Gardner does not charge individuals for the program, nor does he receive any sustained funding. Donations from the community and money collected from recycling aluminum cans help pay for more than 800 t-shirts and operational costs each year.

A 1956 graduate of Lawrence High School, Gardner began his annual summer program with his daughter, Leslie (then an LHS senior football trainer), and friend Jim `Punkin’ O’Connell, to assist LHS football players with a pre-season conditioning program. Now retired from the Lawrence Police Department, Gardner can share hours of success stories on the benefits of regular physical exercise.

“We never turn anybody away because of their age or activity level,” Gardner explained. “It’s more important to start slow but be active on a regular basis and you’ll see the improvements in your health.”

In June, Governor Kathleen Sebelius announced the formation of the Governor’s Council on Fitness. Former Kansas City Royal star George Brett and former KU women’s basketball all-American Lynette Woodard serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Council. Steve Coen, Vice President for Administration at the Kansas Health Foundation in Wichita, is the Council chairman.

The mission of the Council is to encourage increased physical activity, healthy diets and tobacco use prevention by sharing information with Kansans and partnering with businesses, schools and individuals to promote healthy lifestyles.

To nominate a Hometown Health Hero, please use the form available at .