Sara Gardner’s closet is packed with leggings, sweatshirts and sneakers, the staples of any student-athlete’s wardrobe. However, a variety of finely tailored dresses and artfully sculpted ballgowns peek out among the collection of compression tights. These high-end designer pieces are just a perk of the job for Gardner, a model represented by one of New York City’s top modeling agencies, Red Model Management.
“I do get to take some things home, but they’re unrealistic pieces to wear every day,” she says with a sly smile creeping across her face. “I have this huge black tulle Alexander McQueen gown. It’s beautiful, but I don’t know when I’ll ever wear it.”
When she’s not breaking Rider records in hurdling — she owns the program’s best 60-meter and 100-meter times — the 5-foot-11 lithe blonde can be seen strutting the catwalks of New York Fashion Week or posing in sky-high heels for editorial ads. Her favorite professional experience so far has been modeling on TV’s Project Runway. Each week, models are paired with up-and-coming designers who are challenged to create a new outfit, at times made out of unconventional materials.
“There was a challenge where the designers had to make an outfit out of medical supplies,” Gardner says. “My designer used a breathing tube to make a skirt, but it started falling apart a bit backstage before I had to walk. I will never forget [the show’s host] Tim Gunn running toward me with Gorilla Glue trying to help me fix my skirt.”
Gardner has worked in the fashion industry for nearly a decade, first signing with an agency at 14 years old. Aside from the perceived allure of the industry, Gardner’s interest in modeling was propelled by a more ordinary desire — to pay for college.
“I was reading Seventeen magazine and I wanted to be in that world,” she says. “I finally nagged my mom enough times that she took me to an open call audition.”
Frequently, the senior communications major’s inbox contains a smattering of emails about modeling gigs throughout the world. Choosing the right ones can be challenging while being a full-time student and athlete.
“If I focus on track, then modeling kind of goes downhill. If I focus on modeling, then I don’t have time for track,” she says. “Occasionally, I’ll do a job during the school year, but when I’m at school, it has to be about school and track. My parents have instilled that in me.”
For now, track and schoolwork will remain Gardner’s priority. Next year, she will begin pursuing her master’s in business communication at Rider and will continue to compete with the track and field team. As for what comes after Rider, that’s another hurdle she’ll have to face.
“My coach would love to see me go pro in track. Part of me wants to graduate and go into public relations or human resources, but the other half of me thinks I’ll go model full time,” she says. “I don’t really know yet. With time, my path will lay itself out.”