Justin Hardy, University of Washington basketball player, dies of stomach cancer at 22

ST. CHARLES, Ill. — Justin Hardy was a star on and off the court.

The 22-year-old college basketball player from St. Charles, Illinois, who died last week after a battle with stage 4 stomach cancer, had a profound impact on those who knew him and those hearing his story for the first time. .

His family, friends, coaches and teammates remember his inspiring journey.

Hardy began attending Washington University in St. Louis in 2018 and became the University Athletic Association’s Rookie of the Year.

In his second year, Washington’s season was cut short due to the pandemic; in its freshman year, the season was canceled.

But he was preparing to return to the court for his senior year.

Then last April, after waking up with stomach pains, doctors discovered a perforated ulcer.

They performed the surgery. But then they discovered signs of cancer.

“The doctor came in. She said, ‘I got the pathology results. In fact, you have cancer. I’m sorry, this is probably the worst day of your life,'” Hardy recalled in a SportsCenter Featured segment that aired in March on ESPN.

Hardy was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.

“The initial prognosis he received was a 12 to 18 month probability after diagnosis of survival,” Justin’s mother, Karen Hardy, said.

“There is currently no cure for stage 4 stomach cancer,” Hardy told ESPN. “And I’m put in this game that I have, in theory, no chance of winning.”

In the SportsCenter Featured segment, titled “Mind Over Matter,” Hardy wrote a letter to himself.

“Justin, I know you heard some bad news. The news that today is the worst day of your life,” he wrote. “Your mind is going to travel to a place you never knew you were capable of. You will be the most mentally difficult person going through this. There will be many more great days ahead. Don’t let any negativity drag you down. It’s all mind over matter.

Hardy underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments to fight cancer.

He went from 215 pounds to 165 pounds.

“He looked like a shell of himself. He couldn’t move. He was weak. His voice was weak. He wasn’t the same Justin,” University of Washington goaltender Charlie Jacob said.

His coach, Pat Juckem, who described Hardy as a basketball machine, said, “We’re our best version of ourselves when he’s with us.” But the coach no longer believed there was a basketball future for Hardy.

The college senior, however, thought otherwise.

As of October 2021, he was training with the team. A month later, he was in the starting lineup. In December, Hardy was diving again.

Jacob said he just smiled because he knew what he was witnessing with his teammate had probably never happened before and would never happen again.

On February 1, 2022, Hardy learned that the cancer had spread to the lining of his colon.

Five days later, he tied a career-high 28 points.

“If I was going to do this, I was going to do this,” Hardy said. “It’s beating him. It’s me living my life no matter what. If that’s not beating him, I don’t know what is.”

The cancer, however, continued to spread and Hardy’s condition worsened.

He was unable to eat solid food and his weight and strength dropped.

Hardy’s sister, Jackie, called to ask him a question: “Is that…”

Hardy finished the question for her, “Is this the beginning of the end?” He replied, “Yes.”

“I can’t control the spread of cancer inside of me. This part is going to do what it does. And it might be further than I think, but it’s definitely closer than I wouldn’t.” said Hardy.

In mid-February, Hardy began an aggressive experimental treatment protocol. But he was stopped when the side effects ravaged his body and forced him to be hospitalized.

He missed three consecutive games.

And when University of Washington senior day arrived on Feb. 26, Hardy couldn’t enter the court for pregame celebrations without pain due to swelling from his hips to his ankles.

Hardy’s sister had asked him before the day’s game if he was considering playing.

She said he replied, “‘I’m going to put on a jersey, but I’m not going to play. I don’t want a pity game, a sympathy game.'”

With 37 seconds remaining in the game against the University of Chicago and with Washington well in control, Hardy checked in.

Hardy, so weak he could barely shoot, received a standing ovation from the 500 fans in attendance.

Moments later, he made a basket.

It would be the last shot of Justin Hardy’s career at the University of Washington.

Washington would go on to play two rounds in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Hardy was unable to dress for either game.

“It felt like the closing of a chapter,” Jackie said.

Hardy’s impact was felt by those who knew him long before he set foot on college grounds.

He immediately impressed Patrick Woods, the head basketball coach at St. Charles East High School.

“I would see him steal the ball and go for a breakaway dunk,” Woods told our sister station WLS-TV Chicago. “As a freshman, you don’t see that too often.”

Woods said Hardy was versatile. He could dunk or nail a three-pointer, like he did a few years ago to win the game against St. Charles North. The snap went viral.

WATCH | Justin Hardy’s game-winning 3-point shot that went viral in 2018

Hardy was also a leader off the court, Woods said, calling him a “phenomenal student” who graduated high school as a straight student with honors.

He won an award for his courage during the Final Four weekend and returned to St. Charles East for a special basketball game in his honor.

But on Sunday, May 29, 2022, his family announced that Hardy had passed away at the age of 22.

His father tweeted, “After 13 months of courageously redefining what it means to live with cancer, Justin passed away peacefully early this morning.”

Woods said while the loss is heartbreaking, he finds comfort in other teachers’ stories of Hardy’s compassion.

“I would have a student in class that some kids might laugh at or pick on and not want to sit next to, and of course he put the chair right next to that student and became friends with them and sat with them the rest of the semester,” Woods said.

A legacy celebration will be held in Hardy’s honor on Friday at St Charles East Gymnasium. Organizers say it was one of Hardy’s wishes that those attending wear their favorite team’s jersey.

The University of Washington sent its condolences to Hardy’s family.

“Justin’s love for basketball, competition and his teammates made him truly special. We were fortunate to be accompanied on his journey,” the university said. “Justin taught us many lessons, including how to deal with adversity and what winning really means.”

In the SportsCenter Featured segment, Hardy told ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski that he continues to play because it’s what he loves.

“You can’t give up on the things you love to do because you encounter a little bit of adversity,” Hardy said. “And that’s how I’m going to live the rest of my life.”

He continued his letter to himself, writing, “You write your story. From the cover opening to the very last page. This disease can’t take that away from you. Get out there and defy the odds. Rewrite how to live with it. the cancer.

“You are going to do amazing things.”

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