When the gun sounds to mark the 117th running of the Boston Marathon this coming Patriots Day, runner Wes Harding will be playing one of his favourite songs on his iPod entitled, “You Can’t Do That” by the Beatles. Wes Harding, from Sarnia, Ontario, has had many individuals tell him, “You Can’t Do That!” Words such as “never, can’t, impossible, hopeless, inconceivable, unattainable and futile” were often said by others describing Harding’s goals and aspirations. That is until he met the inspirational father/son marathon team known as Team Hoyt, who taught Harding the meaning of the phrase, “Wes, You Can!”
Harding envisioned his life as being the equivalent to cartoonist Charles Shultz famous comic strip “Peanuts” with the hard-luck Harding playing the role of Charlie Brown and his discouraging band of “friends” for lack of a better word simultaneously joining together to play the role of Lucy. In Schultz’ strips and in Harding’s world, Lucy is depicted as an antagonist bully and the naysayer. Lucy was characterized as a bossy, manipulative and selfish girl.
She is constantly reminding the “blockheaded” Brown that he is a “failure” and she is the one who pulls the metaphoric football away from Charlie Brown right as he is about to kick it. Harding admits that his life has been littered with many “Lucys” spewing their venom and telling him he “cannot” do what he set out to do and that his goals and dreams were “impossible” and “unattainable”.
A mere five years ago while at the age of forty, Harding recounts that he was an overweight couch potato of 220 pounds and a non-runner. Nevertheless, Harding had a dream; a dream to run a marathon. Being a bit of glass half-full type spirit, Harding didn’t want to run just any marathon...but the grand-daddy of all marathons. He wanted to run the Boston Marathon.
He realized as he pulled his oversized “tush” off the couch that in order to become a runner, he needed to look like a runner. So, in December 2007, Harding “waddled” into a local shoe store to buy his inaugural pair of “running shoes”. The sales manager looked Harding up and down as he approached her as if assuming that he took a wrong turn while looking for Mrs. Field’s Cookie Emporium and asked what he wanted. Harding shared his dream of running a marathon and not just any marathon; he wanted to run the Boston Marathon.
The sales manager, who was a respected marathon runner in her community, looked at Harding’s overweight build and “Lucyed” saying, “You will never run a marathon.” Like Charlie Brown lying on his backside as Lucy yanked away the pigskin, those words crushed Harding’s dream of ever running a marathon.
This feeling of devastation was not the first time that had left Harding in despair. Throughout Harding’s life there have been many mountains he had to climb in order to reach the peak. When Harding was 24 years old his first daughter, Rebekah, was born to him and his wife, Sue. A moment of celebration immediately turned to a moment of concern as the new parents learned that their newborn daughter’s legs did not bend like a normal individual. Instead, Rebekah’s legs bent the opposite way.
The doctors shared the rather depressing prognosis that she would probably “never” walk like everyone else. A surgical pediatrician was summoned in 24 hours later to assess their daughter. Harding and his wife shared the news with their church and the members began to pray. Prayer had always been a powerful tool in the Hardings' lives and they needed it now more than ever. When the nurse returned to take Rebekah to see the doctor, Harding held his wife’s hand tightly and reminded her that nothing is impossible and that God had a plan.
Minutes later the dumbfounded nurse wheeled Rebekah back into Sue’s room in the hospital and stated that “someone must have been praying for Rebekah”. When the doctor examined the Harding’s newest member, he asked if this was “some type of a joke.” The doctor was not pleased with this humour. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Rebekah. Her legs bent just like everyone else's. Today, Rebekah is 20 years old and nothing stops her!
Only ten months later Wes and his wife would be tested once again with the most challenging of life’s tests. On March 16, 1995 a son, Peter Nathanael, was born. The dream of having the million dollar family had now come true for the Harding family. They now had the perfect family, a daughter and a son. The celebration of a new son ended a few short hours later as they learned that God had a different plan. Although Nathanael was born on earth, God was going to raise him in heaven. Nathanael died due to breathing problems.
Harding knew he had to do one thing for his son; he built his casket. As the tears poured on the wood of that little box, Harding knew God had a great plan; although it was difficult to conceive at that time what that plan was. Today, Wes and his wife have a four million dollar family. With four beautiful daughters, his family has become Wes’ greatest cheerleaders in life.
The mantra that Wes has come to live by is that “sometimes when we are surrounded by what appears to be many difficulties, we may in fact be surrounded by many opportunities and those opportunities are just waiting for us.”
In February 2008 Harding and his family encountered another helping of disaster washed down with a glass of despair. Their family business of 25 years was destroyed by fire. With a “blow of death” nothing was left standing. Over 1.5 million dollars was up in smoke in an instant. With very little insurance money coming, Harding's family learned that the business was “done”.
As the Harding family watched nearly three decades of blood, sweat and toil burn they knew they had a choice to make; either walk away or somehow find a way to start again. They heard whispers from the community that “it would never start again!” The Harding family rallied together to once again prove that yes, you can start over and build again! Four years later, the Harding business is flourishing like never before proving that nothing is impossible with God. Today, God has blessed their business as it is now twice the size it was four years ago and continuing to grow.
Flash back to 2007, to Harding the overweight “couch potato”. He made the conscious decision to make a difference in his life. As an educator, he often tells his students to live the dream, but deep down Harding knew that he was not doing that. As the words of discouragement set in that “he would never run a marathon,” Harding knew that God had bigger plans for him than just watching life pass him by in between the slices of a corned beef on rye. He just didn’t know how God was going to perform yet another miracle of getting him off of this lazy boy’s Lazy Boy. Four days later Harding attended a Church service at Temple Baptist Church. Little did he know that his life would be forever changed that day! As Harding sat quietly reflecting on the word “can’t” a video was shown that began with the word “CAN!” The video was entitled “Yes, You Can” a story of Dick and Rick Hoyt!
That one, simple three-letter word transformed Wes Harding from overweight couch potato to a highly competitive marathon runner and Ironman from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. That Sunday night while braving -15 degree C temperatures that blew into Harding’s jiggling jowl, he laced up his running shoes for the first time since his teens and began to live his life as a thin guy.
Since that fateful day, Harding has lost over 70 pound and has run nine marathons, ran in the 2012 Boston Marathon as a qualified runner for Team Hoyt and completed his first Ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y. in July 2012, in a time of 13:14:42.
During the past six months Harding has run a 5k in 17:39, a half marathon in 1:24:01, and a marathon in his personal best time of 3:11:42. In April 2012, Harding finished the hottest Boston Marathon on record in a time of 3:36:11 and placed 3,911 out of 22,000 runners, disproving his Lucys and proving that “Wes, You Can” do it!
Additionally, while becoming the elite runner that he is today, Harding had to overcome a major physical obstacle two years ago when he survived a collapse during a 10 km race. Harding laid unconscious on the road 300 metres from the finish line for over three minutes before being revived.
Without an ounce of quit in his bones, he finished the race but was rushed to hospital after crossing the finish line. The terrifying event was actually a blessing in its own way as it led to a diagnosis of heart/value disease which Harding continues to be treated for. Even with this diagnosis, the doctors continue to encourage Wes that “Wes, You Can” run and they have noted recently that his heart continues to get stronger and stronger as he runs.
Today, Harding lives by the words that “anything is possible” from Philippians 4:13 that states, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" to motivate others to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Those words also continue to inspire Wes to continue to dream big. He always tells those he comes in contact with to “aim for the moon and pick up a few stars along the way. Even if you miss the moon you will still land in the stars. God has a great plan for your life...so dream big!”
Todd Civin is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
To help support Wes Harding's Boston Marathon fundraising effort please visit Crowdrise.com. Harding is currently co-authoring his first book entitled, “Wes You Can: The Journey from Couch Potato to Ironman” with Todd Civin, of Civin Media Relations that will be released next year. Todd Civin is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.