“I can be myself. I shine in the water.”

My Y Story: Cooper Hardy

Cooper HardyMy Y Story: Cooper Hardy

Cooper Hardy has been a competitive swimmer since age 10; he’s now 16 and a sophomore at Merrimack High School. “Swimming is a very big part of my life and is the part of my life I most look forward to. I wake up excited to see friends at practice. It helps with my mental health,” he said.

Cooper excels as a sprinter on STORM swim team’s senior squad. “My best stroke is free-style and backstroke, and I’m improving my fly,” he said.

Outside of swim team practices and meets, Cooper plays percussion in the Merrimack High School band, but shares that his best days are when he’s swimming. “I like to be around other swimmers,” he said.

In school, he enjoys mathematics and science and excels in those courses. ”I would like to go into bio-medical or bio-technology in the health field, and plan to swim in college.” Cooper shares that although he’s only a sophomore in high school, he has had conversations with three swim coaches at colleges in Kentucky, Indiana and Massachusetts.

Cooper shared that he joined the Y swim program to find something he can be good at and make connections through the sport.

Cooper Hardy

Cooper’s mom, Jenna Hardy, said, “He loved the STORM team immediately and didn’t complain at all about practice. It’s a family commitment and when you find something your kid loves, you make it happen. He kept moving up in practice groups and kept beating his times. Cooper started as a kid who did swimming, but then there was a shift and he became a swimmer. It all clicked.

“He’s pretty chill typically, but he gets in the pool and comes alive. He has an extreme competitive drive in the water and is a whole different person on the pool deck with friends,” she said.

Cooper makes time in his busy schedule to also lifeguard at the Y. “Being at the Y is like my second home, so it works well. I lifeguard with a lot of my teammates. I work six to seven hours a week and it works with my schedule of practice six days a week. That’s worth its weight in gold!,” he said.

Cooper Hardy

Cooper was adopted by the Hardy family when he was 4-years-old. He was born with a congenital heart defect (Tetralogy of Fallot, a birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart.) and should have been corrected via surgery shortly after birth.  At 13 months old, Cooper developed pneumonia and wasn’t expected to live. He was flown from Western China to Beijing by a charity organization called New Day Foster Home where he had the open heart surgery that saved his life. He was then cared for by New Day until he was adopted in 2010. During the adoption process, Cooper’s parents consulted international adoption medical specialist who told them that he would be a “Reader’s Digest kid.” When they asked what that meant she said, “He’ll be a kid they will write about someday because he shouldn’t be alive, but he’ll go on to do great things!”

Cooper’s parents have known from the time of adoption that he would face follow-up surgery later in life to replace his pulmonary valve. He’s been followed by a cardiologist from CHaD in Manchester, NH since coming to the United States, and Cooper just had successful valve replacement surgery in late May. Due to medical advancements that allow the procedure to be done in the Cath lab, Cooper will be back in the pool swimming with STORM just 14 days after his valve replacement.

Coach Erin Jeffers has had a big impact on Cooper. “She has helped me set goals. I use a journal to set goals and track my progress. She creates really thoughtful practice sets for our team. She has high expectations and is thoughtful about aligning practices with our goals. She pushes us to the limits in healthy ways. She’s not an easy coach, and she gets results. She connects with us personally and individually in our lives,” Cooper said.

Cooper Hardy

Jenna added, “Erin sets the bar high and it works for him. Her connection is huge. I think she helps kids stay mentally healthy.” Jenna loves sharing that Cooper, who is primarily an introvert, is often quiet on the drive to the Y. However, after his two hour practice, he doesn’t stop talking the entire ride home. “I can be myself. I shine in the water. It’s my place to be,” Cooper said. His mom chimes in, “The Y has given that to him. He thrives here because of the culture of the swim team. It’s overwhelmingly positive. The kids and coaches are encouraging, the parents are awesome, and it’s had a huge impact on Cooper’s life both in and out of the pool.”

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