MSU redshirt-senior returns from mission trip to shine as runner
During the 2014 NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship, early in the race after the gun went off, an MSU athlete’s spike could be seen lying motionless after the scuffle to start the race. Shoeless for nearly the entire 10,000 meter race, he still ran for a 25th-place finish, aiding the Spartans’ cause to qualify for nationals that year.
The runner, Sherod Hardt, now a 25-year-old redshirt-senior, had only one spike for nearly the entire 10,000 meter race.
“What got me through (regionals) was I looked at my teammates that were all around me and said, ‘I am running this race until I am the last person on the team,’” Sherod said. “Ultimately what got me through that race was thinking about our team’s goal of making it to nationals again.”
With a quarter-century to his name, he’s nicknamed “Grandpa Sherod” by his fellow runners and just wrapped up his cross country career with head coach Walt Drenth’s team.
In Sherod’s most recent race, Sherod ran for 27th place in the nation, leading the Spartans on his way to his first collegiate All-American honor.
From his first year on campus in 2010 to now, Sherod’s been a college student for a long time. Following his freshman year at MSU, he took a two-year hiatus in Oklahoma as part of his Mormon trip. Afterward, he returned to East Lansing and is now competing in his final year of eligibility.
“(Sherod’s) got a lot going on his in his life,” Ryan Robinson, Sherod’s training partner, said. “He’s very strong in his faith, he’s Mormon. ... For him to come back off of that two years of no exercise and rise back to the top, that really speaks to his relentless pursuit of being the best version of himself.”
The road to East Lansing
Originally from Arizona, Sherod was surrounded by a family of runners since his youth. His parents, Shaun and Ellie Hardt, are both coaches at Queen Creek City High School. Two of his older sisters, Whitney and Kari, both ran at Arizona State University.
“(Our parents) were a really big influence,” Whitney said. “Not only do they coach us in track or cross country, they always coached us in everything we did. So we had an opportunity to learn from them in pretty much every aspect of our lives.”
Before Drenth’s time at MSU, he coached the Sun Devils and recruited Sherod’s older sister, Whitney. While he left for East Lansing before he could coach her, a relationship blossomed with him and the Hardt family, which ultimately led to MSU becoming Sherod’s home for his collegiate career.
For Sherod, his recruitment by Drenth didn’t get started without a little push from mom. The head coach said during an indoor meet in Kentucky, Ellie came up to him to talk about recruiting her son, Sherod.
“I told (Sherod), ‘You need to meet Coach Drenth because he is a great person,’” Ellie said. “I knew his personality from his recruiting of my other daughter. So I said to (Drenth), ‘why haven’t you recruited him?’”
When Sherod came to MSU’s campus for his official visit just days after that conversation, the redshirt-senior said it was exactly what he had been looking for.
“When I came (to MSU) on my official visit, it just felt right, it felt normal,” Sherod said. “I knew I could trust in the coaches here. I felt like this team was family to me, as you think about it. When I was on my visit, I fell in love with this school.”
Just one year at MSU later, Sherod embarked on a different cross country trip, this time to Oklahoma as part of his Mormon faith. He said it was something he thought of doing since high school, before having set foot in East Lansing.
Sherod said the main reason he decided to go on the trip was because of one key aspect of his life — family.
“I was able to witness firsthand the goodness the church brought to my family,” Sherod said. “And how it brought my family out of the chaos of the troubles that they were in at the time. So just having that as a testimony builder to me, seeing the goodness that it brings into people’s lives, was enough for me to have that desire to go on a mission.”
Recently, the Hardt family watched one of their sons, Jayce, go off on his trip, this time to Mexico. While they’re gone for those two years, Kari said it’s a bittersweet moment watching their siblings leave.
“It’s just sad when they leave, because they come back a different person,” Kari said. “A better person and they’re grown up, but they’re different. It’s hard to see them go and not being able to experience those two years of life with them, you just get to hear about it once a week.”
From a personality perspective, though, Drenth said while he did see a difference in maturity, Sherod was still the same person he was when he left.
“A lot of who he was (after the trip) didn’t change,” Drenth said. “It galvanizes faith and helped him mature. Anytime you take someone out of a comfort zone and move them somewhere for two years where they have to really sort themselves out, if they do a good job of that they come back as a more mature person. They have better perspective on the world.”
As Sherod’s final season in cross country wore on, he reached the highest individual honor in the sport — earning the All-American nod in the NCAA championship meet.
“(Becoming an All-American) was amazing,” Sherod said. “Coach Drenth and I, we’ve talked about this before. It’s definitely been a long journey. My freshman year I came in believing and knowing that I could be an All-American one day.”
From Drenth’s point of view, though, he said while the achievement was nice, he would have been proud of Sherod no matter the result.
“I’m elated for him (becoming an All-American),” Drenth said. “It’s a well-earned honor. But my level of pride wasn’t going to change whether he ran 41st and just missed it or ran in the top 10. He’s been an amazing person to have around.”
Back home, Ellie, Whitney and Kari shared the moment together while they were volunteering at a meet. They had to watch it on a phone, which cut off sometime mid-way through. Despite it all, the three were able to share the moment.
“We were super proud of him,” Whitney said. “He took off two years to serve a mission, he wasn’t able to run for two full years. It took him a while to get back into where he should be. It was really exciting to get to watch him not only become an All-American, but do well at regionals, do well at the Big Ten championship.”
In 2008 and when Kari was a Sun Devil, she experienced the same thing as Sherod when she earned herself All-American honors. When she was able to watch her younger brother achieve the same thing, she said she got a little emotional.
“I just know the feeling of finally, it paid off,” Kari said. “Finally after all these miserable runs by myself in the summer paid off. There’s just no better feeling and getting to see him do that, it made me tear up.”
After seven years following high school, Sherod is set to graduate this upcoming spring. He still has one more season of track and field to compete in, but after that, his time in the green and white will be up.
Through all the races and workouts at MSU, he’s had an influence on his peers, Robinson said.
Along with his age, there’s also a leadership aspect to it all.
“I think the best part about Sherod is the perfect blend of his ability to laugh and joke and keep the mood light as well as lead by example,” Robinson said. “As well as the fact he’s one of the most genuine people you will ever meet.”
After MSU, Sherod said he’ll be applying to graduate school and that he is thinking of moving away.
While he’s unsure of where or when, he said it’ll be in the near future.
After the grind of competing as a collegiate athlete, Drenth said there are certain aspects of his time as a Spartan he can fall back on once he’s out in the real world.
“Athletics is a great learning platform for moving forward,” Drenth said. “You do find obstacles, you do end up in situations that are not ideal. You do realize successes and setbacks. Having an opportunity to be in this environment and manage under stress will certainly help.”
Sherod said being a Spartan for the last seven years has been one of his life’s best adventures.
“MSU has been amazing to me,” Sherod said. “It’s an experience that I don’t think I can fully put in words. It’s a life-changing experience. It has made me the person who I am today and it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world.”