a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meet Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is flanked on a recent run by Waynesburg University student Tiffany Davis and Waynesburg Mayor Blair Zimmerman.

By Colleen Nelson

WAYNESBURG, Pa. – When Chris Hardie says, "Gotta Run," you can believe him.

The Greene County, Pa., Office of Development and Planning staffer is out the door running whenever he gets the chance – lunchtime, before work, after work and on weekends.

He is on a mission and the mission has a name – Chris Cross the County for the cure.

While many cancer survivors and their supporters walk the track at Central Greene High School for 24 hours for Relay for Life the first weekend each May, Hardie, 32, puts a longer distance face on what he challenges himself to do for cancer in April.

Chris Cross the County takes him from one end of the county to the other, or even across the county line heading for Pittsburgh.

Hardie has been charting a different course each year since 2007 when he ran his first 51 miles for Relay and raised $3,500. His determination to run no matter what the weather attracts the kind of publicity and sponsorship that adds up to thousands of research dollars for the American Cancer Society.

Getting to know the man so many have only seen on the fly isn’t easy. Hardie is on the go even when he's not wearing his running shoes. It’s a rare moment when he can be found in his office with enough time to chat and even then, he is answering the phone, making copies, organizing notes or checking his watch for the next scheduled meeting while he talks.

He’s been up since 6 a.m. on the day of this interview, and there isn’t a day that he doesn’t work out – boxing, Pilates, aerobics and weight training.

“Whatever I’m in the mood for.”

And then there is the almost daily running regime.

“Out of 365 days I’d say I run 350. I’m in training year-round.”

His shaven head, neat goatee and direct gaze complement his compact muscular build. A white bulletin board behind his desk is neatly gridded with his workday tasks – meetings and projects for the county, tucked around his hours as part-time track and field and cross country coach at Waynesburg University.

“I have to keep organized – there’s a lot of things going on here in planning,” Hardie admits. “Any new construction or business coming into the county goes through this office for ordinance compliance. Storm drains, noise, tax abatement, we deal with it. We plan ahead and connect the dots and make sure it’s done the right way.”

Hardie found his own right way as a high school senior, when he realized his body had found its athletic niche in running.

“I have a strong gas tank – I can keep going. The name Hardie is mostly German but my dad’s Cherokee, too. I’m built like him and we’re a lot alike. He has a little gray in his beard and he’s more into working out than running, but that’s about it. He doesn’t think so but he’s the one who taught me to be able to do this. He gave me his work ethic growing up.”

Hardie grew up in Blair County near Altoona, Pa., on land that his great-grandfather once farmed. He lost a grandmother to cancer, then an aunt.

California University of Pennsylvania gave him a chance to run track and field while earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in geography and regional planning. It also gave him another close encounter with cancer.

“One of my running partners, Pablo Prego, started having calf cramps. It turned out to be cancer and it spread quickly. He was only 24. A bunch of us college runners had a run in his honor and the idea evolved over time. When I was at Mount Aloysis College in 2003 I discovered Relay for Life and started helping out. When I moved to Greene County in 2005 and saw there was a Relay here, I got involved.”

When April rolls around, Hardie is ready to run - rain, snow or shine. He has a stock answer for his commitment that is not lessened by being repeated.

“Cancer victims don’t get to choose when they have good days or bad days, so I don’t care what it’s like out there – I’m running.”

This year, Hardie has decided to run in circles for the cure – coordinating the 4th annual Chris Cross with Waynesburg University’s popular Mini-Relay for Life from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 18.

“I’ll be running on campus around Johnson’s Commons, doing as many laps as I can. My wife Kelley is the sponsor of the Mini-Relay and our goal is $7,000. The checks are beginning to come in already.”

Hardie bends down and adjusts his laces. He’s bundled up but his legs are bare against another chilly day – a toboggan warms his head. He grins, straightens up and surveys the road before him. It’s lunchtime and Hardie just has time for a quick sprint and a bite to eat.

“See ya now. Gotta run!”

(Colleen Nelson is freelance writer and artist in Holbrook, Pa. She teachers creative writing at Bowlby Library in Waynesburg, Pa. Reprinted from Living in Greene County magazine, a publication of the Observer-Reporter)

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