Before every cross country race, Nebraska freshman Alea Hardie listens to “What If” by Matthew West. The lyrics “no regrets in the end” have become her motto.
The routine has worked so far as Hardie became the first Husker to win three straight races since 1991, including a program-record 16:44 in the 5K.
Now comes her first 6K Saturday at Oklahoma State, and the South Dakotan is looking forward to competing against some of the best runners in the country. But it seems she has always been on the fast track during her career.
Growing up, Hardie participated in multiple sports including soccer, basketball and gymnastics. Then she ran the mile at a youth track meet.
Not only did running became her favorite sport, but her time was so impressive that family friends encouraged her to run at O’Gorman High School that summer. Those training sessions impressed coach Aaron Strand so much that he invited Hardie to run on the team as a seventh grader.
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“You knew there was something special,” Strand said.
Hardie went on to win state titles her sophomore, junior and senior year — the first girl to win three cross country titles in state history — with O’Gorman taking the team championship her last two seasons.
In track, Hardie won nine state championships while helping O’Gorman to two team titles. She was twice named South Dakota’s Gatorade runner of the year.
“That girl will do anything a coach asks of her,” Strand said. “She does everything by the book. Every stride, every run, she did exactly like it should be done.”
Hardie also credited her teammates for helping her get better.
“She truly loved and was loved by her teammates,” Strand said. “She was an awesome contributor to the team and state of South Dakota.”
Friends and family provided support, too, but her biggest motivator is her faith.
“Pushing yourself and achieving those results becomes addicting because you want more,” Hardie said. “But at the same time I am thankful for every opportunity and run to glorify God.”
That faith and support was especially important her senior year, when she got a concussion at the conference meet, just a week before state. After not running for three days and changing her race plan, Hardie had her best race of the season.
“Her last state title was the most special because you didn’t know what to expect,” her mom, Sara Hardie, said. “She has learned the mental side of the sport by using not-so-good experiences to her advantage.”
A college career was also a goal for Hardie. Wanting to stay somewhat close to home, she felt a connection with Nebraska for its athletic, academic and spiritual resources.
“All the pieces came together and it felt like the right choice for her,” Sara Hardie said. “Nebraska felt right in her heart.”
The transition couldn’t have been smoother.
After starting her Husker career by winning in front of a hometown crowd at the Augustana Twilight in Sioux Falls last month, Hardie’s training and races have steadily improved. She has adjusted to the school work, too, saying her home-schooling schedule prepared her well. Most importantly, she has grown close with her teammates and coach.
Despite that quick adjustment, Hardie still talks with family — especially her mom — as often as possible.
And now that she’s won her first three races, Hardie says she’s not putting too much pressure on winning every time. Like in seventh grade, she is trying to improve by running with older girls. Seeing how far she can go.
“I know there are more competitive races out there so I’m just excited to see what I can do,” she said.