Justin Hardy, who inspired teammates and opponents alike while playing basketball between rounds of chemotherapy last season, died Sunday at age 22 after a 13-month battle with stomach cancer.
Hardy played for Division III Washington University in St. Louis, where he finished as the team’s second-leading scorer last season despite his Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. He was named to the University Athletic Association’s first team and earned national acclaim for his determined spirit.
In April, Hardy traveled to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans to receive the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award given by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
“I don’t go two or three minutes without thinking about the fact that this is my life and something that is going to stick with me forever,” Hardy said in his acceptance speech. “But I have a lot to be grateful for, and I can’t let all of that negativity consume my thoughts.
“Everything in life will be OK if you look at it with optimism. I took that to heart and I think it’s one of the reasons I was able to do all I did. Here we are almost a year later, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to accomplish everything that seemed important.”
Hardy completed a summer internship and graduated last December in addition to shining on the court. Fans saluted his achievements on social media with the #HardyStrong motto.
Washington University head coach Pat Juckem praised his player after Hardy’s family announced his death.
“We are devastated by this loss but comforted by the manner in which he lived his life,” Juckem said. “Justin’s love for the game of basketball, competition and his teammates made him truly special.
“We were fortunate to be brought along on his journey. He showed us what it means to be ‘others focused’ — what it means to be a great teammate. Justin taught us many lessons including how to deal with adversity and what winning really means.”
Hardy’s family has set up a “HardyStrong Scholarship” for high school graduates in Justin’s memory.
Visitation and services are scheduled to be held Thursday and Friday.
–Field Level Media
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