‘Ben’s Brigade’ will support runner battling cancer at Sesame Classic

Levittown’s Ben Harder, who is battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer, will be participating in his 21st Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic on May 15.
      When the foe is formidable, there’s always strength in numbers.
      That’s why the Harder family decided to put together a support group called “Ben’s Brigade’’ for one of its own, Ben Harder, who plans to take part in the 22nd annual Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic on May 15 despite battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
      Harder, who ran the 5K in many of the previous 20 out of 21 Classics, hopes to walk the full distance of the 1-miler and that would be quite an accomplishment.
      Just the fact he’s able to even entertain the notion of walking such a distance is pretty remarkable.
      He was in treatment the last time the Classic was held in 2019 (the event was canceled for two years due to the pandemic) and even then he was facing a challenge.
      Ben’s brother, Arthur, was there that day and admired the courage shown.
      “When he walked the one-mile in 2019 it took its toll,’’ Arthur said in a telephone conversation. “He had a lot of complications but he forged through.
      “God bless that he is still with us.’’
      Arthur estimates there will be some 30 family members making up the “Brigade’’ at the Classic, including sisters Chloebelle, Rosen and Eleanor, along with Arthur’s wife, Jacqueline, two daughters (Nicolette and Pamela) plus grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
      Since 1999, Ben has missed only one Classic and he has a good reason for that.
      “I overslept,’’ he said with a chuckle.
      The goal for this time around is to just reach the finish line.
      “It’s been hard to train right now because of the weather, it affects my body,’’ he said. “I enjoy doing this because it (the Classic) is local and it’s for a good cause (the Dick Dougherty Honorarium Awards).’’
      At 64, Harder is realistic. He knows this might be his last opportunity to take in the Classic experience and so that might make it special in its own way.
      Back in the day, Harder was quite the athlete, taking part in everything from powerlifting to ice hockey. In 1980, he was ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. At 135 pounds, he could bench press 380 pounds, nearly three times his weight.
      Along the way he picked up various college degrees at East Stroudsburg, Southern Mississippi and Northwestern. At the latter, he earned certification in the field of prosthesis development.
      Harder has seen the way amputees have overcome adversity and, in a way, he finds himself in a similar situation.
      “It’s not so much that I’m an inspiration to them,’’ he said. “It’s more ‘if they can do it, I can do it.’ In terms of endurance I’m still limited. I would like to do the 5K now but it’s just too physically demanding.’’
      It’s been an ongoing battle for more than three years.
      Back in 2019, Arthur talked about the challenge which loomed ahead for his brother.
      “He was losing a lot of weight,’’ Arthur explained. “He had an operation at University of Pennsylvania and he’s basically going through his chemo right now. He’s always gone to this event because he lives in Levittown. It’s one of the things he really likes doing. Plus he’s involved my daughters and my grandchildren into the Classic and they’ve always participated.’’
      It’s in local races with a flair toward fun that always seem to draw runners back year after year. The Sesame Place Classic, which features a free day at the park for all runners among other attractions, is a perfect example.
      Arthur said all members of Ben’s Brigade will accompany him on his journey.
      To see Ben now, with a significant weight loss, is startling to those close to him. But they know what he’s made of and that courage will be on display when the milers leave the starting line at 7 a.m.
      No one knows how this story will end but Arthur acknowledged that Ben wants to make the best of his time now, given the circumstances. Hopefully, Ben will be back for another Classic or two in the years to come.
      A lot of people in Ben’s Brigade believe he will.
      Race calendar
      Saturday, April 16
      Rock the Nock 13.1-mile/10K/5K, 7:30 a.m., Quakertown. Contact www.runsignup.com
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Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.