Fifth year Sarah Hardy poses in front of Jacobs Pool on Oct. 19. Hardy started off this season strong with first place finishes in the 200-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke against Loyola on Oct. 7. (Lauren Slovensky/B&W Staff)

To coach or compete: Sarah Hardy jumps back in the water for her fifth year


During her senior season at Lehigh, Sarah Hardy couldn’t help but address the inevitable approach of her 15-year swimming career coming to a close.

Heartbroken at the thought of losing the sport she loves, she was faced with a tough decision: to fill the role of the Lehigh swim graduate assistant or to continue swimming for one more year.

“I didn’t think I was going to swim for another year, and I don’t know why I didn’t put that in my list of options,” Hardy said. “You think four years of college and you’re done, that’s it.”

Hardy applied to be the team’s graduate assistant around Thanksgiving of her senior year. She was accepted into the program and assumed it would be her next step. But, a couple of weeks before the Patriot League competitions, she asked her coach if there was any possibility she could continue swimming for Lehigh instead, especially after her parents had suggested she swim for another year. 

Hardy had to consider the time commitment and other challenges that come with the sport when weighing her options as well. She ultimately decided to keep swimming while pursuing a master’s degree in the business analytics program for a fifth year, instead of taking the coaching job. 

Fifth-year Danielle Prekop, Hardy’s teammate and roommate, said she couldn’t imagine Hardy doing anything else.

“When she stopped swimming, she knew she wasn’t ready for it to be over,” Prekop said. “She loves to be in the water, and it’s very natural for her, so I could see her gravitating more toward being an athlete.”

Fifth year Sarah Hardy swims fly laps in Jacobs Pool on Oct. 19. In the Oct. 7 meet against Loyola, Hardy finished first in the 200-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke. (Lauren Slovensky/B&W Staff)

Hardy said she refuses to waste this opportunity and this season is already recording first-place finishes in the 200-yard butterfly (2:04.73) and the 100-yard backstroke (57.60).

Although Hardy has had great success in the pool, including holding records for Lehigh, her teammates praise her the most for her character.  

“She’s the teammate that people look up to because you never hear her complain,” Prekop said. “She never talks down to anyone and is always a very humble being.”

Prekop describes Hardy as “the team mom” and says she welcomes all incoming classes as if they are her sisters, creating a comfortable environment for other athletes to coexist.

“She’s always someone you can count on,” Prekop said. “She would give you the shirt off her back.”

Junior swimmer and teammate Natalie Martin said Hardy welcomed her into the program as a first-year by inviting her over for dinner.

“(Hardy) always leads by example,” Martin said. “She’s always one of the first in the pool, she’s always leading a lane, and she’s always setting an amazing example with how hard she’s working.”

Martin said Hardy’s dedication to the sport and motivation to be her best self inspires the team, especially because Hardy practices on her own outside of the normal practice times.

Last season, Hardy was named first-team All-Patriot League for the first time and was named Swimmer of the Year by the Lehigh Valley Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

She said the awards mean a lot to her, but the recognition is not the driving force for her performance. 

“I don’t do the sport to get those accolades,” Hardy said. “I do the sport because I love it.”

Hardy attributes her success over the course of her career to how hard she worked in high school to set herself up for college, as well as to her past teammates, current teammates, coaches and family.

Looking forward to the rest of this season, Hardy said she would ideally like to shave more time off of her personal bests and Lehigh records. 

But she also wants to make the most of every moment she gets in the water.

Even though she decided not to coach this year, Hardy said coaching swimming is something she will be interested in down the line. Right now, Hardy is interning at Talen Energy in Allentown but will take some time off after her fifth year to decide her next steps.

“It’s been an awesome journey and I don’t want it to end,” Hardy said. “It’s crazy to think that I even got this fifth year, so I’m beyond grateful to be doing it.”

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