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Joe Hardy didn’t even start running, much less take it seriously, until just over three years ago.

Now, the Seattle Prep senior is the No. 1 high-school boys cross country runner in the nation, according to the Saucony Elite 50 rankings. He’s also the reigning Metro League, Sea-King District II and state champion, and he’s a favorite to win the 3A State cross country championship again this year.

“Yeah, I’ve done all right,” Hardy said with a small smile on Wednesday.

Hardy admittedly doesn’t like the spotlight, but he knows that with his success comes attention.

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It’s a success that no one, not even Hardy, really planned on. Hardy said his mother made him participate in a camp Prep has in the summer for incoming freshmen and anyone else who wants to try cross country. At the time, he didn’t want to do it.

“You kind of knew, but a lot of things have to fall into place,” John Robertson, co-coach at Prep, said of the talent Hardy possessed before finally joining the team for good.

Robertson has been coaching at Prep for 21 years. He said that, without a doubt, he’s never seen or coached anyone like Hardy.

“He’s inherited a phenomenal gift for running,” Robertson said.

Hardy broke his own 5,000-meter record on Lower Woodland’s course with a career-best of 14 minutes, 56.87 seconds, at the Metro League championships on Oct. 24. He’s only the third Metro runner to win three individual championships. He went on to win the Sea-King District II meet for the third year in a row.

“I would like to win state this year again,” Hardy said. “The competition is really good. … It’s definitely not a guarantee whatsoever, but I want to go out, give my best effort and hopefully that’ll end in a victory.”

Robertson said the biggest team competitors at state should be North Central, Kamiakin, Nathan Hale and Mount Spokane.

Hardy specifically named North Central’s Kai Wilmot and Tanner Anderson, Mount Spokane’s John Dressel and Nathan Hale’s Andrew Foerder as his top competition this year.

“We work all year round, Hardy said, “and this is one of the two times where it really, in my opinion, gets visibly a payoff (in recognition).”

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