Van Wert alumnus Keagan Hardmon won the 400 meter dash at the River States Conference Championships, held at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh on April 27, 2018. (Photo courtesy Ohio Christian University)
Van Wert alumnus Keagan Hardmon won the 400 meter dash at the River States Conference Championships, held at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh on April 27, 2018. (Photo courtesy Ohio Christian University)

VAN WERT — It started out in the spring of his junior year as a way to improve his speed for football. Little did Keagan Hardmon know that track would soon become his route to a college education. It’s been an incredible run for the 20-year-old self-supporting college junior-to-be.

“My friends, Kris Hart and Quincy Salcido, convinced me to do track,” said Hardmon. “I wanted to do track because I thought it would help me in football. I didn’t know it would become like this. Track was an afterthought. My senior year I become more track focused, but I still really wanted to play football in college.”

During his two years of track at Van Wert, Hardmon become a part of four school records that still stand — 200 meters (22.08), 400 meters (48.76), 4x200 relay (1:29.60), and 4x400 relay (3:19.88). He stood on the podium four times at the state Division II meet — fourth in the 400 in 2015 and again in 2016; fourth in the 4x400 in 2015, seventh in the 4x400 in 2016.

No college football scholarships materialized for Hardmon, but track was another story. He now runs for Ohio Christian University, located in Circleville, where, after only one year, he holds five school records — indoor 200 meters (22.23), indoor 400 meters (50.33), outdoor 100 meters (10.93), outdoor 200 meters (21.75), and outdoor 400 meters (47.88). He also runs the indoor 60 meters with a PR of 7.10.

Hardmon’s specialty is the outdoor 400. In his first season of track at OCU he was undefeated in that event until the 2018 NAIA National Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where he finished 10th in 47.88.

The 400 is described by many as one of the toughest events in track. “It’s definitely a hard one,” said Hardmon. “It hurts quite a bit. It’ll kill ya’ but I like it. I like pushing myself. I like seeing what my body can do. I enjoy it.”

Hardmon played youth sports but took none of them seriously. As a high school freshman his only sport was basketball. As a sophomore he first got serious about sports, namely football. He joined the team as a wide receiver and cornerback. He continued to play basketball as a sophomore, but that turned out to be his last year of hoops.

During his three years Hardmon turned in some solid performances on both sides of the football. However, his two years in track were spectacular — and held the key to his future, athletically and academically.

Hardmon had Division I aspirations, but those opportunities didn’t work out, and for financial reasons he ended up at Ohio Christian, a member of the River States Collegiate Conference, which is composed of 13 schools in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

He immediately joined the OCU cross country team, where most races are eight kilometers in length. “Cross country was really rough,” said Hardmon. “I was running cross country to train, to get my strength up. It was a struggle for me. Not fun.”

Hardmon red-shirted in track his freshman year. “Since I wasn’t competing, I was lifting twice a day. It was kinda rough. I wanted to get out there and compete. It was training for a whole year, but I was ready this year to compete. I was hungry.”

Hardmon takes his training very seriously, maybe a bit too seriously at times, which could have been a factor in an injury-plagued freshman year.

“I think what killed me was running cross country,” he said. “I had a stress fracture in my shin. I think it was just running so much. At Christmas break I didn’t take a day off, I just kept running when I was supposed to relax, and I never did. That set me back a little bit. I also ended up pulling my hamstring.” Fortunately, his sophomore year was injury-free.

“College track is a lot different from high school,” said Hardmon. “There’s a lot more technique that goes into it. Running form is definitely a big one. In high school I ran with my knees kinda low, but I worked on that, getting my knees higher. We didn’t lift a lot in high school either. We lift just about every day in college.”

“We watch film occasionally, and we look at the professional athletes and look how their form is and things they’re doing that we can fix for ourselves,” Hardmon added. “Like block starts, I watch Christian Coleman (world record holder in the indoor 60 meters), watch his block starts, use him as an example, try to figure out what he’s doing that can help me.”

“Keagan had to be patient and trust the process but he has progressed well,” said OCU track coach Eric Hamner. “We worked on his start and his drive phase to build that top end speed over time. He has tremendous strength, and he is a hard worker on the track. We had to reign him in a few times to make sure he was recovering enough to prevent injury.”

The combination of college academics and athletics is intimidating to many, but not so much to Hardmon now.

“It (academics) can be a struggle,” he said. “My freshman year I struggled a lot, trying to figure out how to get everything down. I had tried to be a serious student in high school, but I don’t think I studied as much as I should have. In college if I don’t do well I lose my scholarship, so I stay focused. It takes a toll on your body. You get tired. Every day. I’m in season from August to June. Track and academics — that’s just how it is.”

Hardmon came to OCU with his goals set high. He wants to win an NAIA championship in the outdoor 400, which would require him to get into the 46’s, maybe even the 45’s (the 2018 champ ran a 46.07). For some more perspective on his accomplishments, consider this: Hardmon’s 400 meter PR of 47.88 would have gotten him a ninth place at the 2018 Big Ten Championships and a fifth place at the Mid-American Conference Championships.

“Keagan has an outstanding ability to work hard on the track and in the weight room,” added Hamner. “He has great stamina and is willing to give his best even on workouts that he may not enjoy. He has a great internal desire, and I am certain that he will continue to become even greater.”

Hardmon’s high school football coach has nothing but admiration for him. “Keagan has a very good, but rare, combination of athleticism and football smarts,” said Keith Recker. “Keagan is a great role model for not accepting what bad things life sometimes throws at you. He took control and, because of his attitude and effort, is and will continue to be successful in athletics and life.”

Hardmon is majoring in criminal justice and psychology. His goal is to become a forensic psychologist.

Keagan is the son of Kim Hardmon. He has three older sisters — Ashlynn, Chanelle, and Kyerra.