By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Basketball brought Luke and Jessica Spencer-Gardner to Oral Roberts University from two very different places, yet the sport inspired them both in much the same way. In fact, it is at the core of who they are today. Luke traveled from Australia and Jessica from Kansas City only to meet outside the practice gym and become best friends. They graduated in 2005 and then got married. From there, medical school for Luke, a public relations career for Jessica, four children and many moves would follow. The Spencer-Gardners recently settled in Ponte Vedra Beach from Texas for Luke’s job as a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. Jessica, whose passion is Les Mills’ Body Combat and Grit, recently started teaching at the Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee YMCAs, excited to share her 10 years of fitness experience. Not surprisingly, all four of their children — aged five to 12 — play basketball.
Q: Did you always love basketball?
A: Luke: I started playing when I was eight years old. As the years went by, basketball became something that I was good at and enjoyed. I played on our state teams and then on a national team traveling the world (playing in the World Championships in Portugal). After I graduated from high school, I had no plans for college, and then I got this scholarship opportunity while I was working in a furniture warehouse. I had three weeks to prepare to get my Student Visa and move.
Jessica: Around middle school, I fell in love with the game of basketball. I had a dream early on in high school to play Division 1, so that was my goal. I worked really hard to get there. Right away I noticed the big jump up in the level of competition, the speed, the power and the strength of the college girls. It was a great network to instantly have in place.
Q: What life lessons did basketball teach you?
A: Luke: I really enjoyed having something to work on and something to work towards. Having a craft that you are trying to perfect translated very easily to my career. Working within a team towards a goal is something that certainly translates into everyday life.
Jessica: Perseverance is one. It is not easy, physically, mentally and emotionally, to balance it all — especially at the collegiate level. It gave me that “never give up” mentality and built confidence. That absolutely translates to life. I love to bring that into group fitness classes, and I love seeing how hard work produces results.
Q: Who influenced you the most?
A: Luke: My mum was the most impactful person in my life, especially through my teenage years. She stood by me in a way that provided stability.
Jessica: My parents really gave me a wonderful standard for creating a stable, loving home. They gave me every opportunity to pursue my goals. I am so grateful for that gift.
Q: What do you like about Ponte Vedra Beach?
A: Luke: I really love being by the beach again. Some of my best childhood memories are by the beach because Melbourne is by the bay.
Jessica: I love all the nature and having the beach a few minutes away. It is hard to beat. I don’t mind the warm winters either, after living mostly in the central and upper Midwest.
Q: Describe the passion you have for your respective careers.
A: Luke: I love the clinical side of my practice, and that I am able to have a very narrow focus with hip surgery. I also have the opportunity to teach residents and conduct research. That is the beauty of the Mayo Clinic’s three shields: clinical practice, education and research. My interest in orthopedic surgery came from a knee injury that I sustained my senior year in college.
Jessica: My faith directly affects how and why I teach group fitness classes. Each person in class matters. I want each person who comes to my class to not just get a phenomenal workout and realize what their bodies are capable of, but to feel valued, lifted up, empowered and inspired. God is the source of my strength and joy each day. And before every class, I pray that God would use me. I want to deliver the best class every time — and make it fun!
Photo courtesy Jessica Spencer-Gardner