By Jamie Bennett
Star Staff Writer
ANTIGONISH, N.S. — Like all good runners, Melissa Hardy knows how to roar toward a finish line.
The fourth-year human nutrition student from Deer Lake didn’t even start running competitively until she transfered to St. Francis Xavier University two years ago. Now, with the end of her varsity career already in view, Hardy appears to be getting stronger and more determined with every race.
A second-year member of the X-Women running team, Hardy was selected as one of the squad’s captains this year and has led her team to first-place showing at the opening two meets of the season. She ran a time of 17:51 in the five-kilometres race at the Saint Mary’s Invitational, good enough for second place in the meet, before finishing first-overall at her school’s invitational last weekend.
With her help, the X-Women have the early edge on rival Dalhousie University in AUS standings, although she admits the Dal squad were missing several key runners in the first two events.
Despite finishing behind the Maritime rivals the last two seasons, Hardy said her team takes confidence from finishing seventh last year at nationals, well ahead of Dalhousie’s 12th place showing.
“We beat them by a nice bit at nationals ... and that’s where it counts,” Hardy said Thursday from St. FX. “I know it looks like an individual sport but it’s not. We try to knock off each runner on the Dal team but it’s definitely a team sport.”
She’s modest about her leadership role and said with few rookies this season and team unity at a high, she’s expecting big things this year.
“We knew basically the group of girls we had to work with and we were in contact all summer,” she said. “We were training hard and we were hoping to have a great season and so far we are having a wonderful one.”
It’s been a heady few years for the daughter of Beverly and Peter, both of Deer Lake, as she has quickly carved a place for herself among the elite of AUS runners.
While she played sports such as volleyball and soccer growing up, it wasn’t until preparing to move to St. FX after doing first year courses at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University that she though about running. She admits she wasn’t good enough to make the team in 2010, but after training with the team all season she saw steady improvement, shaving a remarkable minute off her five-kilometre time each race.
The improvement, combined with a summer spent training every day culminated in a spot on the team last season, AUS all-star honours and a 33rd place showing at nationals.
Despite the relatively late start, Hardy said she took confidence from the early disappointment of not making the team by the support she received from her more experienced future teammates.
“They are role models, they cheer you on, and the coach keeps you around for a reason. He sees potential,” she said.
“It was easy enough to just become best friends. The older girls and the coach were a huge motivation my first year.”
Her enthusiasm for the sport is evident in the way she speaks of forcing herself through the fatigue, driving her body to its limit. It’s a love-hate relationship to which any runner would attest, and she says she’s learned to embrace the pain.
“You just have to keep telling yourself you aren’t tired and you have the coach on the sidelines yelling that you aren’t tired,” she said with a laugh.
“You need to stay positive and it works out. The finish line is always nearing. When you’re done, there’s no better feeling after you realize what you did and what you pushed through. It’s very rewarding, it’s runner’s high basically.”
When she wraps up her studies this spring, Hardy intends to pursue her masters degree and may return home to attend Memorial University.
Whatever the case, her favourite thing about running is the possibility to make it a life-long passion.
“With running, you can keep it up.” she said. “You can compete every day. You see older people racing all the time and it’s something you can do as long as your body allows it.”
At just 21 and gaining steam, Hardy would appear to have plenty of racetrack still in front of her with no finish line in sight.