“A comet for good”: Remembering Justin Hardy

| Managing Sports Editor

Hardy, right, has a quick sideline chat with freshman Drake Kindsvater.”A lot of players, they really liked the game,” head coach Pat Juckem said in January. “[Hardy] loves it.”  (Photo credit Clara Richards / Student Life)

On Sunday, May 29, Justin Hardy passed away at 22 years old after a 13-month-long battle with stomach cancer. Hardy epitomized bravery and courage in the face of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

Hardy was diagnosed in the spring of 2021, and after a summer filled with chemotherapy treatments and doctors’ appointments, he returned to WashU in the fall and started to mention returning to the basketball court. “We were all sitting there thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Like there is no way,” his teammate and best friend David Windley said. 

Day by day, though, Hardy got stronger, and he went from not being able to run up and down the court to slowly returning to gameday shape. On November 10, while still undergoing chemotherapy, he played 27 minutes in WashU’s first game of the season. On Monday, he had an IV in his arm, and on Wednesday, he was in the WashU fieldhouse practicing with his teammates. 

After going public with his story in December — first on a podcast and then through various news outlets’ coverage— Hardy’s story exploded. The five-minute ESPN College Gameday segment of his story initially garnered a quarter million views on Twitter alone. Hardy became a public symbol of toughness, of finding a way back to the sport he loved and showing up for his teammates despite his own challenges.  

Even while his story was being publicized by national news outlets, Hardy was eager to redirect the spotlight away from himself. He didn’t talk publicly about his story until five months after his chemo started; initially, Hardy said in a mid-January interview that he “didn’t want to draw too much attention to the situation and onto [himself].” But then he realized that maybe someone else could take something from his story and live their life a little differently because of it. “Not that anyone’s gonna see this, but maybe the right person does,” he said.

Academically, Hardy was also a standout student, graduating in 7 semesters with a degree in Accounting and Finance. Even with a rigorous course load, he was the go-to guy when his friends had academic questions. “I just always felt like I was just, like, a half-step slow in school,” Windley said. “I realized about halfway through — I guess after the first semester — that I wasn’t actually […] a step slow. He was just a step ahead of everybody else.” 

For his basketball teammates, Hardy’s strength was epitomized in his moments of triumph during the winter basketball season: a dunk against a top-ten nationally ranked opponent, or seeing him score 28 points per game after his return to the court. 

Yet what will stand out in their minds the most — over all the highlight-reel moments — is Hardy’s consistently positive presence in their lives. “I don’t know if I have a specific story,” teammate Jack Nolan said in February. “Justin is just one of those kids that — every day, every single practice, every single lift — is so consistent. There are no ups and downs with him, ever. Every single day he’s brought it 100%, and that’s why he’s a winner. That’s just the type of person he is.”

He was an avid watcher of Survivor and the Amazing Race, a skilled Hearts player and a tutor for high schoolers. Originally, he had planned to work in consulting, but in an interview in January, he expressed his own doubts about that career path, opting instead to follow his passion of tutoring children in math or ACT test prep. “I start to think about, okay, is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?” Hardy reflected. “Is that what’s gonna make me really happy? I would say probably not. So, I definitely have had thoughts of what else I could do with my life.” 

Hardy’s teammates described him as a superhero, and his friends knew him for his probing questions and relentless positivity.  But for him, that appreciation was completely reciprocal; in January, Hardy described his support system as one of his most important takeaways from the challenges that were presented to him over the summer. “Team is number one,” he said. “I have Charlie, Dave and Jack. And then three of my best friends are on the girls’ soccer team, and they’ve been everything for me.” 

He was the go-to guy for the underclassmen on the team, the resident consultant for calculus questions and issues about navigating the Bear Bucks system. Even through his personal battles, he was unstoppably selfless in his support of friends and teammates. “The look in their eyes when they’re talking to him, it really is like they’re talking to a superhero,” Nolan said.  

WashU announcer Jay Murry described Hardy as a comet for good, and ultimately, his orbit completely eclipsed WashU. His bravery and perseverance, unconditional loyalty and selfless generosity left a permanent impact on anyone who was lucky enough to cross paths with him. 

Funeral visitation will be held on Thursday, March 2 in Geneva, Illinois, and further resources are provided on washubears.com for students and staff seeking additional support. 

Read Student Life’s profile of Hardy here: 

‘We see him as a superhero’: Justin Hardy’s unlikely return to the basketball court

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