by EMMA K. CARTER
You could say Race Across the USA core-team member Jessica Hardly eats, breathes, and lives for health and fitness. In addition to her passion for running, thirty-two year-old Jessica is a professional nurse with her Bachelors in nursing from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and the coach of a girl’s high school basketball team. With a background like this, it’s no surprise she’s ready to tackle the RAUSA and raise money for the 100 Mile Club—however, Jessica will also be running this ultramarathon for a more personal reason.
In July of 2014, Jessica lost her father, Jesse Adam Hardy, Sr., due to complications of diabetes. Being a nurse and an athlete, it was a challenge for Jessica to watch his health deteriorate, particularly since he’d struggled with obesity all his life. She’ll be running across the USA this year in his honor.
Although she is days away from beginning her 3,080 mile trek, Jessica was kind enough to sit down for an exclusive interview.
When did you start considering yourself a serious runner, and how did you get into the sport?
I’ve been running for about five years, but I only started racing in the past three. I’ve always enjoyed sports, but when you get older your choices in organized sports decrease dramatically. In Memphis, my old boss, Dr. Barbara Geater, took me under her wing and pushed me to start running and working out in the gym. I ended up joining her triathlon team, Terrapin Racing, and have never looked back.
Have you ever participated in an ultra-marathon quite this challenging before?
I’ve done a few 24-hour events and stage races, but I’ve never run quite this long before for so many miles a day. I love running long and at a comfortable pace so I plan to do that for most of the journey.
How are you preparing for your 3,080 mile voyage with Race Across the USA?
I’ve been practicing running at a slower pace and for a longer amount of time. I know there are going to be ups and downs like in any race, but I’m getting to the point mentally where I can push through the pain and slow down and listen to my body. I had a friend ask if I was nervous at all, or afraid that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. I’m not. I am so excited to be able to experience the beauty of the country and to meet all the amazing children along the way. I’m not looking at this as a race but as a journey, and I know that no matter what, I’ll make it to the end.
What are your goals for the Race Across USA ultra-marathon?
To enjoy the journey and self-discovery! I can’t think of a better way to learn about yourself. I lost my father in July 2014 and sold my house in Memphis just before that. I am not working at present. I am in total transition and I need to take some time off to travel and find my passion. I really want to take time to reflect on what is important to me and find inner peace with everything that’s happened over the past year—especially my father’s passing. I was a complete daddy’s girl and he was a huge influence in my life; it is still a struggle every day not to hear his voice.
Do you have any tips/tricks for those who aspire to a complete an ultra-marathon?
When you get to that place where you want to quit and everything in your body is telling you to stop and drop out—DON’T! At the end you will be so relieved you didn’t. My motto for this trip is “Slow and steady!”
What’s been your favorite race/triathlon/run to date?
“3 Days of Syllamo”—Three days of running 150K around Arkansas. I love it for the beauty of the trails and how technical the course is. It has a wonderful race director and all the people that race it are truly passionate about trail racing.
What does running mean to you? What have you gained from the experiences you’ve had as a marathon runner?
It is a time for personal reflection, and a time for testing your limits. I love the endorphins you get from running. As a nurse it is important for me to be healthy and running does the trick physically and mentally. I enjoy the passion all runners have when they are shoved in a room together—the topic could be talked about for days and days!
You coach a women’s basketball team and you are one of three women on the Race Across the USA Core team. Do you have any advice for the young female athletes out there who will be looking up to you as they follow your journey?
I have been coaching an amazing group of girls this season and I’m always pushing them to live a healthy life and make smart decisions. Also, I never let them use the word “can’t.” It doesn’t exist in my gym. I stress that they always attempt anything they want to do and never let themselves or anyone else hold them back from their dreams and aspirations!