Wildcats get stronger despite two-year mission breaks

Just a year ago, Mike Hardy, a junior at Weber State University, was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Minnesota. But, on a late June evening at Drake University, he was competing for a chance to win a national title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. His time of 8:50.23 earned him Honorable Mention All-American honors by placing 18th, but it was proof that returned missionaries can still perform after a two-year absence from competing.

Of the current men’s cross-country team, 62.5 percent have served missions and taken a two-year break from running. But Coach Paul Pilkington has had many years of practice coaching the runners back into shape.

“Most of the runners have a huge disadvantage when they come home, either from weight gain or just not running for two years. We don’t want to throw them straight into racing; we tend to redshirt them for a season or two,” Pilkington said. “We have to be careful, because we don’t want them to get injured; it usually takes a year for them to be back to full strength.”

Hardy, who didn’t even run seriously until his freshman year at WSU back in 2008, was a contributor to the team, but, since returning home, he has earned All-Conference honors twice and won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the conference meet. But he said he had his struggles getting back into the swing of things.

“(I went) from running, at most, 18 miles a week to 80 miles a week within two months,” Hardy said. “I remember my first race, thinking that it hurt more than I remembered it hurting. After the third race, I kind of got used to the feelings of racing.”

Hardy said he attributes most of his success to a lesson he learned as a missionary: setting and achieving goals.

“I have taken that practice from my mission and have applied it to my schooling and running,” he said. “As a result, I have been accomplishing my goals.”

Tyler Robinson, a sophomore at WSU, recently returned from New York in June. He said he feels his transition has been better than expected.

“I rarely ran on my mission; for my first year or so, I didn’t have a companion that was willing to run. It was mainly just abs and push-ups.”

Robinson said he made the decision right before he came home that he was going to continue running for WSU, because he felt he could contribute to the team and help it reach its goals.

“I just want to keep improving,” he said. “I feel like I am getting stronger every day, and I feel better right now than before I left. Everything seems to be getting smoother as I continue to up my mileage and get involved in the harder workouts.”