Brock Hardy recently claimed All-America honors after a sixth-place finish in the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Hardy served a mission to Brazil before beginning his collegiate wrestling career at the University of Nebraska. (Photo courtesy of NU Athletics)
Returned missionary grappler Brock Hardy claims All-American honors at Nebraska
Latter-day Saint is back in elite form after stepping away from the sport to share the gospel in Brazil.
By Jason Swensen
28 Mar 2023
It’s hard to spot obvious connections between being a collegiate wrestler competing in the American heartland and being a missionary laboring in Brazil’s sprawling coastal city of Rio de Janeiro.
But in each of those disparate locales, Brock Hardy has endured humbling periods — and moments of joy, success and growth.
Hardy is a newly crowned All-American and a rising star on Nebraska’s storied wrestling program. He’s also a returned missionary who is just as eager to revisit his experiences sharing the gospel in South America as he is talking Cornhusker wrestling.
The Brigham City, Utah, native is also a newlywed — but more on that later.
For Hardy, wrestling and missionary service are both extensions of his family.
“I grew up in a big family. All of my cousins lived close to me and we have all wrestled and all served missions,” he told Church Ball Magazine.
Simply categorizing Hardy as a “wrestler” is a vast understatement. As a high schooler, he was a four-time Utah state champ at Box Elder High School. He was also a five-time first-place finisher at USA Folkstyle Nationals and was one of the country’s premier college wrestling recruits.
Nebraska wrestler Brock Hardy, right, competes against Big 10 opponent from Northwestern University during the 2022-23 season. Hardy is a lifelong Latter-day Saint and a returned missionary. (Photo courtesy of NU Athletics)
Hardy was drawn, in part, to the Nebraska program during his recruiting process because the Huskers’ coaching staff supported his missionary goals.
“I had made a decision long ago to serve a mission… but there was always a question of when I would serve,” he said.
As he was being recruited, Hardy remembers some college coaches “almost trying to dictate” his timeline to serve a mission. They felt it would be best if Hardy delayed his mission until after college wrestling.
“But at Nebraska, the coaches wanted me to make that decision for myself.”
Ultimately, Hardy submitted his mission papers immediately after high school. A call came to the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission. He had committed to Nebraska, but Division 1 college wrestling at a Big 10 conference school would have to wait.
“I just felt that I didn’t want to put off serving the Lord. I wanted to do that as soon as possible.”
Mike Ripplinger coached Hardy at Box Elder High and has been associated with the Hardy family for decades. The veteran coach is not surprised to see his former star wrestler ascending the college ranks.
"Even when Brock was just a little squirt, he loved to wrestle," recalled Ripplinger.
Hardy's "winning combination" of talent, focus, faith and humility has allowed him to shake off the mission rust and become one of the country's top wrestlers, the coach added.
Elder Brock Hardy poses with young people he met while serving in the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North Mission. After returning from his mission, Hardy joined the University of Nebraska wrestling team. (Photo courtesy of Brock Hardy)
Grappling challenges in Brazil
No surprise, missionary work was challenging for Hardy. He was immediately immersed in a new culture even while struggling to pick up the basics of Portuguese. In his first area, he lived with three Brazilian elders “that did not speak a lick of English.”
While Hardy never entirely lost his “farmtown-Brigham City accent,” he did pick up the language. “But I was truly humbled. I had to live simplistically and speak simplistically. It was a humbling experience.”
But even during his most challenging moments, Hardy never forgot why he was in Brazil. “I was there because I wanted to serve the Lord. I had made that decision a long time ago. I knew that I was doing it for Him, so I knew that I could make it through.”
He also discovered strength in missionary accounts from the scriptures.
The Brazilian people — both inside and outside of the Church — were also sources of daily support.
“The thing I loved the most about Brazilians was their openness,” he said. “They didn’t always accept our message, but they were almost always accepting of me. They let us in and always wanted to talk about Jesus Christ. They always wanted to help, even if it just meant offering us a glass of water or a place in the shade to get out of the heat.”
Given his missionary experiences, Hardy is not surprised that Brazil has become a power in the Church. “The Brazilian people are open to the message of Jesus Christ and they are prepared for the Word.”
A Husker hero
Full-time missionary service offers priceless opportunities for personal growth. But for a college athlete, being a missionary is typically a lousy way to remain in top-end physical condition.
In 2020, Hardy returned home from his mission a bit chubby and far from the fitness level demanded of a Nebraska wrestler. The pandemic, ironically, offered him an unexpected opportunity to get in shape before reporting to the team.
Still, when he first stepped into the Nebraska wrestling room he was humbled — just as he had been as a green missionary in Brazil. His wrestling partners were all-conference and All-American athletes.
“Just like on my mission, it was sink or swim. Once again, I had to remember why I was doing what I was doing.”
But, once again, Hardy persevered. He worked hard while looking forward to better days ahead. Meanwhile, he made peace with the fact that he would never be the same wrestler he was coming out of high school. He had to evolve. “About a year after returning from my mission, I felt like I was better than what I was before my mission.”
In 2022-23, Hardy announced to college wrestling that he would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. After placing second in the elite Big 10 conference, he secured his first All-American honor after finishing sixth at the 2023 NCAA Championships.
The psychology student was also an NWCA Scholar All-American in 2021.
“All-American” — & a married man
Being an All-American is akin to being an Olympic medalist. For the rest of Hardy’s life, he will carry the title of “All-American.”
But ascending to the elite collegiate ranks of his sport is not Hardy’s favorite post-mission milestone. Ten months ago, he married Kourtney Small, a fellow Brigham City native.
“Being married has been wonderful,” he said. “I get to spend every day with my best friend.”
Nebraska All-American wrestler Brock Hardy married fellow Brigham City, Utah, resident Kourtney Small last year in the Brigham City Utah Temple. (Photo courtesy of Brock Hardy)
Most college athletes can check the “single” box. But, curiously, three of Hardy’s wrestling teammates at Nebraska are married — including fellow Latter-day Saint/returned missionary Brandyn Van Tassell.
The Hardys enjoy serving in their Lincoln-area ward. “It’s a fairly big ward full of students and grad students and professors,” he said.
Always a goal-setter, Hardy is eager to win a national title and help bring a team trophy to the Huskers’ program. “And lastly, I want to be an Olympian and become an Olympic champion.”
Once retired, Hardy hopes to stay connected to the sport that has already defined much of life.