MSU - Sherod Hardt: Always on a mission

MSU - Sherod Hardt: Always on a mission

Provided by Ryan Squanda

Sherod Hardt: Always on a mission

By Ryan Squanda

Born into a Mormon family of athletes in Queek Creek, Arizona, there had always been two things in Sherod Hardt’s life: church and sports.

With two older sisters who ran cross country at Arizona State and a mom who coached the track and cross country teams at Queen Creek High School, it was only a matter of time before Hardt followed in their footsteps and became a star in the sport of running.

After capturing the 4A Division 1 Arizona State Cross Country Championship in the fall of 2009, and following that up with a sixth place finish at Nike Nationals with a time of 15:16 in the 5K, the recruitment for Hardt’s athletic ability began to blow up.

Toward the end of the recruitment process, and after numerous visits to several different colleges, Hardt said he and his family began seeking the advice of Michigan State cross country coach Walt Drenth, who had recruited two of Hardt’s older sisters during a prior coaching tenure at Arizona State.

“Honestly, his mom called me,” Drenth said. “I’m friends with her. She’s kind of one of the leaders in high school track and cross country in Arizona. She said ‘How come you’re not recruiting Sherod?’ I said ‘Ellie, there’s three feet of snow on the ground right now (in Michigan). You live in Queen Creek, Arizona.’ … It seemed a little incongruous. She said ‘I think he’s interested.’ And so it kind of started late. I knew who he was because of my connection to the family but I didn’t start recruiting him until they called.”

Soon after this conversation, Hardt headed to East Lansing for a visit. A week later, he was a Spartan.

With the decision of what college to attend off his chest, Hardt would go on to have a dream senior track campaign. With personal bests of 1:54 in the 800-meter, 4:10 in the 1600 and 8:59 in the 3200 during his senior year, Hardt’s season culminated with quite possibly his most impressive accomplishment yet: state championship titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200 - all in the same day.

After his successful high school career came to a close, Hardt arrived as a student at Michigan State in the fall of 2010. But even after all his high school achievements, and after an impressive first year of competing at MSU, there was still one mission he hadn’t accomplished.

Every year tens of thousands of Mormons around the age of 19 pack up and head out on two-year mission trips focused on evangelism, church service, humanitarian aid and community service.

Hardt’s case was no different. In the summer of 2011, Hardt put both his running career and studies at MSU on hold and made his way to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) missionary in Oklahoma City, where on a day-to-day basis Hardt said he would have conversations with others to help bring them closer to Christ, in addition to providing service and relief to tornado-ravaged areas in Oklahoma.

As for Drenth’s stance on Hardt’s inevitable two-year absence from the team, he was more than understanding with Hardt’s commitment to his church.

“I knew he was LDS from when I recruited his sisters, I knew that,” Drenth said. “I figured it was probably part of the gig. When I coached at Arizona State, I coached LDS kids. That was just part of what they did.”

But while Hardt was fulfilling all the commitments an LDS mission trip takes, it also meant putting the entirety of his running and training on hold.

“I actually really didn’t get to run,” Hardt said. “I think there was a total of about a three month period where I ran for maybe 30-45 minutes a day. We usually have a daily structure to our schedule which gives you 30 minutes in the morning to work out, so that’s not very much time.”

Still, it’s a trip which offered experiences Hardt wouldn’t trade for the world.

“Some of my favorite moments I had were some of the friendships and relationships I was able to build with some of the people in Oklahoma,” Hardt said. “There’s a lot of faith building experiences that brought you closer to Christ and you could see the people you were talking to and how their faith had increased in Christ as well as yours. I think those were some of my happiest times.”

After Hardt’s two-year trip came to a close, he returned to Michigan State in the fall of 2013, where he would sit out and redshirt that year’s cross country season to train and get back in shape.

“It was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be,” Hardt said of getting back into the swing of running every day. “A lot of the things that kept me motivated was Coach Drenth and a lot of my teammates encouraging me throughout the process of getting back in shape.”

However, according to some of Hardt’s teammates who had known him prior to his mission trip, it didn’t take long for him to get back to his previous form.

“He didn’t even look out of shape when he got back, but apparently he’s lost a fair amount of weight,” fifth-year senior teammate Drake Veitenheimer said, who first met Hardt at MSU’s cross country camp prior to their freshman year. “He made a really quick recovery, and [during] our indoor track season, he made the (Big Ten) Championship mile final. It was pretty impressive how he came back so fast.”

To get an idea on just how fast Hardt was when he returned to the track in the spring semester of 2014, consider the following. He set personal bests in both the indoor 800 (1:52) and the mile (4:06) and followed that up with a 3:55 1500 and a 14:25 5000 in outdoor season – impressive feats for anyone, let alone someone coming off two years of virtually no running.

As for this year’s cross country season, things continue to look bright for Hardt, as he remains one of MSU’s top finishers, including most recently at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 17, where Hardt went home with a season best time in the 8K, finishing in 24:37 – good enough for third on the team and 98th overall.

Still, other than his undeniable running talents he brings to the team, according to Drenth, it’s his intangibles as a person which set him above the rest.

“When you go on a mission for two years and are basically deprived of a lot of things, you learn a lot about yourself,” Drenth said. “I think you become more of a leader and learn what it takes to get through the world. We’ve been really fortunate to have him.”

“I think he has a chance to be an All-American and be a star in cross country but I think still one of his biggest attributes is his leadership, him as a human being,” Drenth went on to say. “It’s helping us grow.”

Everyone who speaks of Hardt says there’s not a thing to dislike about the guy. And in a day and age where so many young athletes get caught up in so many different situations, there’s something to be said about the way Hardt carries himself.

And as the 23-year-old Hardt moves forward with the Michigan State cross country team, still just a sophomore, Hardt will serve as a leader of the program for years to come - where likely many missions will be left for him to accomplish.