Twenty-five years ago, Jeff Hatfield learned the importance of punctuality, physical endurance and discipline from one of his toughest and favorite coaches, Don "Red Dog" Gardner.
Hatfield, 39, was one of the six Lawrence High School football players who participated in Gardner's original fitness program for youth.
Thursday night, Hatfield sat in his car and watched as dozens of people filed into Abe and Jake's Landing, 8 E. Sixth St., to help Gardner celebrate the 25th anniversary of his popular community workout program.
"I was shocked," Hatfield said. "I sat in my car watching all these people carrying in food, and I remember just the six of us out there - the sweat, blood, tears - and nobody knew what we were doing. He never did it for all this."
More than 450 people joined in the celebration, including Katy True, 30, who visited from Mission. She also started in the program as a high school student to prepare for volleyball.
True, who has asthma, said the support system from Gardner and everyone at Dog Days helped her during training, "even if I had to go slower or stop."
Hundreds of fitness fans of all ages have attended the weekly summer workouts, the highlight of the yearlong program. Stan Weil, 54, has been participating in Dog Days for 12 years. He wrote in a card to Gardner, "Thanks for making my body feel so good."
"I'm amazed that a volunteer thing can last this long," he said. "Basically because of one person."
Gardner was flattered by all the attention. "It's kind of exciting," he said. "I haven't got choked up yet, but that will probably happen."
However, he attributes the success and growth of Dog Days to those who have helped him, including his family, his wife Beverly and Jim O'Connell, who started the program with him in 1984.
"I'm getting all this credit; it's not me," he said. "It's all these people that help."