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Darrell Harden: Inspiring Decisions and Where They Can Lead Too

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Darrell Harden

When Darrell Harden makes a decision, he sees it through. In 1998, the nearly lifelong Alabama resident decided he wanted to move to the Midwest. Not for a job and not for family. He just felt like moving there and decided to do so.

Technically, Harden was born in the Midwestern United States. Indiana, actually; but had moved to Alabama before his first memories and had always considered the South his home. Now, something about Midwest was calling him back.

"I applied to a handful of grad schools in the Midwest," Harden recalls. "And I remember thinking I wouldn't apply anywhere south of Kentucky. I decided to go to Western Michigan and absolutely loved Kalamazoo."

Cut to January of 2016 and Harden is running up and down the hilly roads of Kalamazoo at daybreak hours in sub-zero temperatures, a far cry from the heat of the south. Stride by stride, he's pushing the spirals of his Yak-tracks into the snow-packed roadside and he's not alone. There are dozens with him, following his tracks, his lead and his voice as he yells out words of encouragement. He's here because of another decision he made: to take control of his health; to become a runner.

Harden is a team leader at Borgess Run Camp, a 13-week program designed help people achieve their running goals, from setting personal records on their marathon times to running their first 5K, and everything in between. The 2016 Run Camp has over a thousand participants, separated into groups by pace and goals, and each with a team leader, like Harden, to see them through.

His decision to get into running is a recent one. It was just seven years ago that Harden, then weighing almost 240 pounds and struggling with hypertension and high blood pressure, walked into Run Camp Orientation for the first time.

"I was on a lot of high blood pressure meds," says Harden. "I had done a little running, but it was hard on my joints to carry that much weight. The only race I had ever run was a 5K." Harden’s health could hardly be considered fit for a half marathon, but he made the decision to sign up for the Run Camps half marathon training program.

"The support and kindness was overwhelming," Harden recalls. "When I team lead now, my goal is to show the kind of support and compassion that I received when I was new to camp."

Harden completed the Borgess half marathon that year, and went on that same year to complete a full marathon in Detroit. "Because why not run a full marathon the same year you run your first half," he jokes.

The next year, he was made a team leader at Run Camp. Harden quickly became known throughout camp as a motivator that would stop at the top of hills to cheer and high five runners making their way up, and in many cases would run back down to run up with those that were struggling.

Since his first year at Run camp, Harden has been a regular team leader. He's continued running races as well, running two more marathons and 20 half marathons, including the inaugural Midwest Half & Half Challenge in 2015, a two day event that begins with the Wisconsin Half Marathon on Saturday and ends with the Kalamazoo Marathon on Sunday.

This year, he and his wife of two years, Jessica, are the event's ambassadors, chartering a bus from Kalamazoo for all Half & Halfers and helping to organize meals and lodging in Kenosha, Wisconsin for the participants.

The once unhealthy Alabama transplant now checks in at 147 pounds and is off his high blood pressure meds. By day, he works for the MI Department of Transportation as the Rural Program Coordinator, but in the early hours of the weekend, he is motivating and inspiring people to a healthier lifestyle.

Harden says what he likes most about the Kalamazoo community is that it's the kind of place where something like Run Camp and a Marathon can exist. "There is so much here. From the arts to sports to theatre to an incredible running community. Whatever you’re in to, you can decide what to do and go do it!"

Learn more about the upcoming Borgess Run for the Health of It! events and support it on May 8, 2016.

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