Grit, determination fuel Hardy’s wrestling ascent

by Anthony Maggio

As an unranked freshman in high school, John Hardy, “106 pounds dripping wet,” wrestled an opponent ranked among the top 10 in Indiana at 112 pounds.

During the match Hardy dislocated his shoulder, an injury that would cost him the remainder of the 1992-93 season. But he continued on, and when the final buzzer sounded, Hardy was victorious.

This is vintage John Hardy: overcoming obstacles and striving to excel while underestimating his own talent and success.

“I was fortunate to get hurt and miss the season so it wouldn’t hurt my record so bad,” said Hardy, now a 165-pound ranked starter for defending national champion Minnesota.

After recovering from injury, Hardy posted a 125-19 overall record at Princeton Community High School in Princeton, Ind., including a 40-3 record his senior year.

Still, he wasn’t the Hardy boy schools were looking for. His little brother, Josh Hardy, captured all the interest.

When John was a freshman weighing just over 100 pounds, Josh was a 160-pound seventh grader. As John finished his high school career, schools like Oklahoma State and Minnesota were looking at his sophomore brother.

“After it was all finished, I really had no desire – I was lost,” Hardy said. “I wanted to wrestle in college, but I was also dealing with the fact that I sucked.”

Still, Hardy thought a school might take a chance on him with a strong showing at junior nationals in Fargo, N.D. But adversity reared its head again.

Two days before Hardy was to leave for Fargo, he was in a car accident. Hardy’s left hand went through the windshield, his neck was nearly broken and he suffered a concussion.

All the tendons in his hand were cut. Hardy had two operations, and doctors were unsure if he would regain use of his hand.

Hardy wore a splint for a year and a half. He could not wrestle or work out. Instead, he spent his time coaching the high school team he once wrestled for, including his brother, who won the state championship in his junior and senior years.

“I’d have been lost without John coaching me and working out with me,” Josh said. “Winning state, I attribute that a lot to John. It meant a lot for him to be there coaching me.”

It meant a lot for John as well. His brother decided to start at a small school instead of joining a collegiate wrestling powerhouse. So when Neosho Community College in Chanute, KS, offered him a scholarship, Josh demanded his brother get one too.

So the brothers, who had few friends besides each other and would sneak in their high school gym late at night, were now going to wrestle at college together. Still, John remained in his younger brother’s shadow.

“It was pretty embarrassing,” Hardy said. “I was tagging along with my little brother. But in my own mind, I knew I’d do well.”

After their first semester, the younger Hardy decided to end his wrestling career, a move which emotionally devastated John.

“They had so many plans together,” their mother, Mary Hardy, said. “They always talked about how they were going to be together.”

But John Hardy stuck with it and performed well, notching a 33-4 overall record and winning the 1999 Junior College National Title at 165 pounds.

There he ran into Minnesota assistant coach Marty Morgan, and soon Hardy was wearing Maroon and Gold.

After using his sophomore year at Minnesota as a learning experience, Hardy started the 2000-01 season at 6-1, and things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction.

Then injury struck again. Hardy was diagnosed with a fractured back, which ended his season.

Hardy spent the summer working harder than ever, and is now ranked seventh nationally in his weight class with a 2-1 record. Like his teammates, Hardy is poised for an NCAA title run.

“He’s worked on building his body into a machine,” coach J Robinson said. “It will pay
dividends at the end of the year.”

His parents, coaches, teammates, and brother praise Hardy’s resilience and hard work. Through his effort, Hardy has gone from the kid who was 106 pounds dripping wet to one of the nation’s best.

“Growing up, I always thought I was a lot better than I really was,” Hardy said. “Mentally, I was telling myself how good I was, but I had nothing to back it up. The whole time wrestling I was just trying to become what in my own mind I already was.”

He’s there.

Anthony Maggio covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]