How the stars aligned for Spencer Hardy: Canada West Championships Rookie of Year

When junior year of high school rolls around, most students begin to prepare themselves for the application process to the post-secondary institutions of their choice. Though Spencer Hardy had aspirations to continue his cross country career, his profile wasn’t standing out. But one state championship later, “the stars truly aligned” for Hardy as the Thunderbirds varsity cross country team presented him with an opportunity that was too good to turn down.

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Hardy was what he calls an “all-around athlete.” He didn’t really have the passion for one specific sport, but he began to focus on cross country around the fifth grade.

For Hardy, it wasn’t the actual running that intrigued him, rather the friendships he was forming through the sport. The summer prior to his first year of high school set the tone for Hardy, as he was introduced to a community centred around sports. It was something that really brought them all together. His respect for the sport was inspired by Coach Frank at Central Catholic High School, who pushed his career in right direction. This is where Hardy got the foundational training.

The state championship from his junior year is a race he will never forget, as he was able to place 18th overall and his school ended up winning in a tie breaker. “This was a huge accomplishment compared to the year before where I came 56th; it was a big jump,” he said.

This ultimately landed him a spot at UBC, where he fell in love with the beauty of the city. “The trails around campus are impossible to beat,” he said.

One would hope to have an easy and smooth transition from high school to university as there are already a lot of nerves that come with this big life change. For Hardy, this is where things took a turn, as the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on his first year as a T-Bird.

“In this sport, confidence is key and you have to go into every race feeling like you are ready to go,” Hardy said. But with no races for an entire season, self-motivation is what drove him to continue pushing himself.

Although not having races was not an ideal situation for Hardy to help him transition into the university lifestyle, he was able to still train with his team getting in some gym work and tempo practices — tending to keep a pace of 3:20–3:25 per km — not knowing what could possibly happen over the next year.

“There was a huge amount of excitement. With the amount of young guys, we are all just going in there with no expectations. We know we can do something special,” Hardy said.

Additionally, this year allowed Hardy to find his love for the sport. “I used to not like running, to be completely honest.” This past year, where people were trapped in their homes, showed him how running was his outlet, leading him to develop a passion for it. He mentioned that he “even forgot that racing was a thing.”

“The first race of the season almost felt unnatural ... but there was a moment where I forgot we are doing this to get faster. It was more therapeutic.”

After a season off this year, Hardy “definitely has exceeded expectations.” Hardy didn’t shy away from boasting about his team’s performance, mentioning how it continues to be extremely impressive. The team began running their tempo pace at 3:10–3:15 per km — which really stood out at the Canada West championships.

He mentioned his teammates Thomas Nobbs and Josh Kozelj and how they both played a big role in his accomplishment of placing fifth overall. Nobbs set the pace for the race and Hardy discussed how he and Kozelj knew that they needed to sit back in the beginning because “[Kozelj] was fitter than any of us.” Slowly picking off those who fell off the pace, Kozelj and Hardy motivated one another with encouraging words, pushing through the final lap of the race. The realization hit when he noticed that four of the top five sports spots were occupied by his UBC teammates. It wasn’t just the top five that was dominated by his teammates, he was able to make it into the top 20.

He discussed how having Kozelj by his side was beneficial for his race technique and he felt that if it had just been him on his own out there, this achievement may not have been possible.

He said it’s about “just realizing the power of having a teammate next to you in a race.”

When he learned about being named rookie of the year, Hardy said, “I didn’t really know it was a thing.”

However, he knows he can’t let this get to his head as there are still bigger things ahead to come, like the national championships this weekend.

“Staying excited is the biggest thing. We have no idea about what we can do. The sky is the limit. If the stars align, we can do something special.”

Hardy hopes that running stays a part of his life. Although he may not get faster, he wants to see how far he can push his body and hopes to stay apart of the running culture for as long as possible.

Josh Kozlij has contributed to The Ubyssey. This article was published on print and written before U Sports Cross Country Championships took place, where both women’s and men’s teams finished fourth. Hardy came third in U20 men’s event at the Canadian Cross Country Championships.