Glastonbury High School’s Molly Harding was down, but never lost hope this year.
The recently-graduated senior, who will run track and field at Yale University, tore her labrum in late January and had surgery in mid-February.
At the time, doctors told Harding that the shoulder injury would end her athletic career at GHS.
“I was very upset that I wouldn’t have an outdoor season and as a senior in high school you never want your senior season to be taken away.” recalled Harding. “It was awful. This was the last chance that I would have to compete in my high school career.”
Undaunted, Harding began to rehab with an unwavering determination to compete with the Guardians’ again.
Track and field head coach Brian Collins said the team didn’t anticipate Harding coming back this spring, adding, “She recovered a lot quicker than expected. She could have just rested on what she had done early in the season and what she did in the past.”
Harding was cleared for competition in May and immediately made an impact, showcasing the speed and explosiveness that had previously made her a state champion.
Despite having less than a full month to prepare, Harding finished as the runner-up in the 400 meters at the Class LL championships and then anchored the 4x400 relay team that crushed the competition, winning the event by nearly 10 seconds over runner-up East Hartford on May 31.
A week later, the 4x4 team duplicated the feat by winning the State Open, running two seconds faster than the class meet time. Juniors Alyssa Healy and Riley Carroll carried the team the first two legs before senior Meghan Smith blazed the third leg to give the team a slight lead.
“We knew we were in a good position when Molly got the baton. We knew if we had a lead, we should not be caught,” recalled Collins.
As she had done many times before, Harding effortlessly pulled away from the field, crossing the finish line again before celebrating the State Open champion with her trio of relay partners.
“To be able to run it with a team that I love and have wanting to run with for a while now was a special experience,” said Harding.
The relay team then pulled the championship trifecta, winning the event at the New England Championships on June 11 and breaking the school record in the process by running a 3:54.37.
Hannah Caiola, who will run at Southern Connecticut State University, replaced Carroll at the New England regional as the foursome set the new mark at Willow Brook Park in New Britain.
Harding added that the 4x4 relay is her favorite event because it’s the ideal distance and the “team aspect” makes winning it more fulfilling.
Prior to her shoulder injury, Harding was no stranger to injuries.
As a junior, she had her outdoor season cut short with a hamstring injury. Last spring’s setback combined with the recovery of the torn labrum gave her a new outlook and appreciation of the sport she will continue in college.
“It’s really hard on your mind, but I think it really helped my mentality and it pushed me to be my best,” said Harding. “I have battled through an injury before and I knew this was my last shot to complete, so I just worked every day. I couldn't take it for granted.”
The Guardians won the Class LL title as a team and finished the State Open in 5th place. Harding’s return was a big reason for the overall success.
Collins was not only impressed with her speedy recovery, but also her ability to get up to speed with the top athletes in the state.
“[When she returned] she was way behind all the other kids. Not just our kids, but with the kids around the state. What she did the rest of the season in that short time span says a lot about her,” said Collins.
Harding has had plenty of success on the track over the past four years, along with being an all-state field hockey player in the fall.
She also excelled in the classroom, earning high honors during her time at GHS.
Both her athletic and academic prowess will serve her well at Yale.
She hopes her next stop in New Haven is as memorable as her hometown experience.
“I’m going to miss the teammates and the support I've gotten over the years,” reflected Harding. “No matter what, they have supported me and we always support each other as a team. It’s that mentality that I will miss the most.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin