Kobe Bryant, left, supported Irvine's Darlene Gardner in her quest to lose weight for charity. (Courtesy of Pure PR & Associates / October 6, 2012)

There was an emotional moment for Darlene Gardner on Thursday night at Equinox fitness gym in Irvine.

Gardner held back tears when she talked about a life-changing experience and the support she received while she worked to lose weight for charity.

This isn't a story about touchdowns or home runs. It involves plenty of sweat, and maybe some tears. Somewhere in this, believe it or not, Kobe Bryant can be found.

Let me explain.

Gardner, an Irvine resident who owns Antonia, a women's shoe store in Newport Beach, joined the 28-Day Weight Loss Challenge put on by Fit Foods 4 Life. She competed against two others also shedding weight for a good cause.

Gardner lost 17 pounds and won $55 per pound lost donated to Don't Worry Be Happy, the charity that helps those with cancer. It was a charity close to Gardner's heart. Her friend Mary Newton of Newport Beach was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Equinox played a key part in the ladies' quest to lose weight. They offered free service to its gym and assigned four trainers to each contestant.

Gardner, 48, worked out at the gym four or more times a week. Funny thing about this gym. You've heard the Lakers are Kobe's team. Well, Equinox is Kobe's gym.

He likes to come through in the evening and everyone in the place knows to leave him alone. Kobe, who lives in Newport Coast, does his best to avoid eye contact.

Posing with pictures with fans at this gym? You'd have a better chance at taking the ball from him with the game on the line.

But Kobe couldn't help but say something when he saw Gardner show her determination while training at the gym.

After a few "You go girl," compliments and some high-fives from Kobe, a smiling Gardner had to tell the Lakers star guard why she was working so hard.

Kobe later showed his support and posed with a photo with his new friend and wore a Don't Worry Be Happy T-shirt.

" I told him about my charity and what it was about and he said, 'I hope you win,'" Gardner said. "And then I brought in a DWBH T-shirt and told him, 'I would really appreciate it if you would stand up with my charity,' and he said, 'Absolutely.' He said, 'I'll do more than that, I'll post it on my Facebook and I'll take a picture with you. I'll do whatever you want.' I was absolutely blown away by that. I heard he doesn't do pictures. He's a really nice guy. It was pretty awesome."

With Kobe's help, Gardner remained determined to lose weight.

She beamed with pride Thursday night at Equinox where she was showered with praise by her friends and family.

"Darlene was great during the workouts," said Jenny Marler, a trainer at Equinox. "She was so motivated. She was all for it. And she wanted me to push her all of the time."

Cristina Lopez, 25, of Villa Park and Consuelo Rodriguez, 55, of Balboa Island were also winners for this great charity.

Lopez dropped 14 pounds as she was also shedding for her upcoming wedding. She raised money for the American Heart Assn.

Rodriguez lost 13 pounds for the American Diabetes Assn. Each contestant spoke highly of Equinox and its trainers, and remained determined to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

"This was the jump-start for a complete change in my life," Gardner said. "I'm back in the gym."

The three women, along with the various sponsors, raised $1,625 for total pounds lost for the charities, plus more from what they raised in their own pledge for pounds.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen