Former X cross country standout returns to alma mater as dietitian
By Corey LeBlanc
For Melissa Hardy, it has been a homecoming – of sorts – in recent weeks.
A highly-decorated student-athlete with the White and Blue cross country program, she recently returned to her alma mater.
The native of Deer Lake, Newfoundland is sharing her expertise as a dietitian with the StFX community.
"It feels different, but it is so exciting to be back," she says, noting the changes on campus since she graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition degree, and an integrated dietetic internship.
Hardy started her part-time position as a campus dietitian with Sodexo – the food service company at the university – in mid-December. As part of her role, she will assist with StFX Athletics – sharing her knowledge of sport nutrition with student-athletes.
Her eclectic role with Sodexo includes leading student counselling sessions – both individual and group ones – although the latter have been stalled by the continuing COVID-19 global pandemic. Group sessions have been taking place virtually.
Hardy will be helping students with dietary restrictions navigate campus dining and will also team up with Sodexo's culinary staff to assist in the menu planning process for those students requiring specific accommodations.
That's just scratching the surface of what Hardy will be able to provide to StFX students.
"I am thrilled to see what StFX and Sodexo can do in the years to come with a dietitian on campus," she predicts of her work.
Hardy notes there are "not many jobs in Canada," where she would be able to also focus on sport nutrition, and certainly fewer in rural communities.
The road 'home'
Since crossing the stage with her StFX degree almost seven years ago, Hardy has remained busy – continuing her studies, while also building an enviable career in her field, including as an educator.
The proud StFX alumna, who successfully completed the Canadian dietetic registration exam and is a regulated healthcare professional with the Nova Scotia Dietetic Association, also has board certified designations as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She also has a graduate diploma in sports nutrition through the International Olympic Committee.
"It helped me to appreciate the little things that we often take for granted," Hardy says of her multi-year journey in northern Canada, "and made me recognize the advocacy work that is needed."
"I also had to become a bit more resourceful – develop and use unique skills," she adds.
She worked for the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority in the traditional Mushkegowuk territory throughout Cree First Nations in northern Ontario, providing outreach to six communities along the west coast of James Bay.
Hardy is a recipient of an Association Catalyst Award – through the Dietitians of Canada – which recognizes exceptional contributions to the profession through advocacy for Indigenous knowledge within dietetics.
While up north, Hardy says she also "fell in love with the outdoors all over again."
Despite what could – at times – be unforgiving weather conditions, she adds she spent a lot of time outside, including camping, canoeing and building igloos.
"It was a lot of fun," Hardy says.
Hardy also operates a burgeoning private practice – East Coast Performance Nutrition – where she helps people "reach their optimal potential."
She points out she works with everyone, not just athletes.
As an example, Hardy helps pregnant women develop nutrition plans; ones focused on mother – and baby – reaching peak health.
She notes what we eat – and how we do it – has broad-ranging effects, noting the link between nutrition and both development and decline cognitively.
"It is not just for athletes," Hardy explains of nutrition plans geared towards strength development.
For instance, it may focus on a grandparent who wants to be able to play with their grandchildren.
"It goes way beyond sport performance," Hardy says of her private practice.
Noting that they are "also human," she adds her work with athletes – at StFX and otherwise – focuses on more than just athletic performance.
When it comes to nutrition – and this applies to everyone – Hardy says making "little changes" can create big benefits.
"They can have a significant impact on your long-term health," she adds.
Back on the track
Coupled with her professional accomplishments, Hardy has continued to excel as a competitive athlete since leaving StFX. In 2019, she qualified in her age group with Team Canada for the International Triathlon Union World Triathlon Grand Final.
The 2013 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) female athlete of the year in cross country says she "loves" being able to see the track at StFX Stadium every day.
"There is always someone to run with," Hardy says, with a laugh,
Her running partners have included former X teammates; not to mention current X-Women and X-Men student-athletes.
"I am really enjoying it," Hardy says.
When asked how she maintains her hectic schedule – athletically and professionally – she credits her time as an undergraduate at StFX.
"It really set me up, when it comes to time management," Hardy remembers of having to balance athletics and academics.
"I learned how to juggle a busy schedule."
Hardy laughs when asked about the decision-making process that brought her back to Antigonish.
She describes a "heated debate" with her partner Rod MacNeil – a StFX alumnus and native of Johnstown, Cape Breton – when it came to their re-location plans; whether they would settle in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.
Although they ended up selecting his home province, Hardy notes she is now much closer to her beloved Newfoundland; only a two-hour car ride from the Marine Atlantic ferry that can steam her home.
"I can't wait," she says of the return of the Atlantic bubble, so she can make a trip to Deer Lake.
In the meantime, the couple is settling in; they recently purchased a home in Antigonish.
"We are happy to be back," Hardy says.