LONDON GROVE >> Ian Harding grew up as an overweight child. He endured some levels of bullying when he was young and admitted that he never wanted to run unless he was being pushed to do so.
Then in college, after a series of rude awakenings, he lost 100 pounds and got in shape. Now he is a muscular 220 and on his way next month to his second USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals.
“I’ll be racing on my birthday,” said Harding, 26.
Like many people who were too heavy throughout their youth, he had a story to tell.
He recalled that as a child in elementary school, a school counselor advised him that he should just cut down on his food intake.
“She said, ‘Instead of eating two cheeseburgers, just eat one.’ She didn’t address the problems of the bullying or that I was hungry,” he said.
Later on, when his family moved during his fourth-grade year from Lansdowne to the Avon Grove School District, he said things were better as he had a group of friends and played lacrosse in ninth and 10th grades. Still, he was on his way to more than 300 pounds, and people still made comments about his weight.
After high school he enrolled in Delaware County Community College for education courses and then went on to West Chester University to major in health and physical education. It was then that a series of events occurred that made him reevaluate his lifestyle and get on the track to health.
One of those events was his confrontation with overdrinking. He said he remembered making a fool of himself at a wedding, and then at a later date finding himself wandering on the outskirts of West Chester during the night and not knowing how he got there.
“It was at the intersection of Birmingham Road and Route 52 and I looked up and saw that sign that says ‘Sausage.’ I said to myself, ‘I don’t know how I got here, but think I have been here before,’” he said.
During another conversation later on, he was talking to a woman whom he told he was majoring in health and physical education, and was aiming to be a gym teacher.
“She told me I wouldn’t be a very good example to the students,” he said.
It was the beginning of his junior year in college that the turning point came. It was in September and he was 21.
“When I first started out I cut out fast food and junk. The sugary drinks were the worst. I would drink a half gallon of iced tea in a day. ... I still eat pizza once a week with the family. I never eat dessert, however. ... I love breads — bagels and soft pretzels are my downfall,” he said. “But now if I eat junk food I feel horrible.”
At home his family was supportive, but it took some getting used to on their part.
Harding said his mother always prepares a big Sunday dinner for the extended family. “The first time I told her I wasn’t going to eat what she cooked, I thought she was going to hit me over the head with the pan. Now, if she has something like mashed potatoes with gravy, she’ll cook me a small red-skinned potato,” he said.
He started exercising on his bike and swimming. His friend, who is a trainer, told him not to run at his high weight until he lost enough to carry it on his body.
“It was Thanksgiving morning that I first ran. I had lost 30 to 40 pounds in that three months,” he said. “People were beginning to say, ‘Were did you go?’”
He said his friends noticed the difference in his appearance before he did, but there was a change in the way his clothes fit. A shirt that he had been photographed in during May (and filled out) was baggy the following fall.
Harding weighs himself everyday, but he does not obsess over variations. He said he knows if he just stays the course of diet and exercise he will maintain his current level around 210 to 220.
His dramatic improvement in fitness that enabled him to compete is local sanctioned triathlons (running-biking-swimming) was helped along by his job as a swim teacher at Hockessin Athletic Club in Delaware, where he does his swim training. He also works out on his stationary bike which he keeps in the garage. In order to qualify for nationals, he had to finish within a mandated time based on his age group, which he did.
On Aug. 12, he will return to the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska, where he competed last year. “I feel that I am in way better shape than last year,” he said.
He recalled that in 2016 he did OK in the swimming, not so well in the biking and terrible in the run. He’s not sure if slipping and banging his shin on a step after the swim contributed to his less-than-stellar performance on the bike and road. But he said he will be cautious this year and do exactly what his coach says.
That coach is a professional who lives in Texas and whom Harding pays to direct his training program. Each day he communicates with that coach, and the coach tells him exactly what kind of workout to do for the next 24 hours. Ultimately, he would like to qualify for the world championships.
When he was asked what he would like other people to know about his weight loss journey and his rise to fitness, Harding said he does not want to judge other people, adding that they have to come to their readiness by themselves.
But he did offer this advice: “I’m a lifeguard at Hockessin Athletic Club. I see New Year’s resolutions in January. By March, most of them are gone. If they would just realize that if they kept going, they would see a big difference by May,” he said.
Ian Harding is the son of Cherie and Damian Harding, with whom he lives.