In what has otherwise been a year to forget, Heather Hardy can at least head into 2020 on a high note.
The former featherweight titlist from the Gerritsten Beach section of Brooklyn was granted a two-month reduction on a six-month suspension as previously imposed by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC), BoxingScene.com has learned.
The prior punishment handed down came after her having tested positive for a banned diuretic one day prior her title fight loss to fellow Brooklyn native Amanda Serrano this past September in New York City’s Hulu Theater. Hardy was hit with a six-month suspension and $10,000 fine, but a partially successful appeal reduced the punishment to four months, and more importantly with the resolution restoring her career-long reputation as a clean fighter.
“The one thing I always wanted to prove is that I’m not a drug cheat,” Hardy (22-1, 4KOs) told BoxingScene.com upon learning the good news firsthand on Friday. “I always knew that I’m clean, that I don’t need to cheat. It’s an experience we learned from and I’m just glad the commission understood and agreed to (reduce) my suspension so that I can continue my career.”
Hardy was up front about the testing snafu from the beginning, attributing the adverse finding to taking a prescription medication to treat bloating, which she verbally disclosed to the drug testing collector as contracted through the World Boxing Council’s Clean Boxing Program (WBC CBP) by way of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). The issue with drug testing, however, is that the athlete is responsible for what enters their body. Absent being approved for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), boxers are not permitted to take any banned substance, nor is the practice forgiven even when said medication is disclosed verbally or on paper.
It was a lesson that Hardy had to learn the hard way, catching up to drug testing standards as her title fight with Serrano was the first-ever female bout to carry random drug testing. News of the groundbreaking development came just 10 days before their DAZN-streamed bout.
“That was the first thing people were asking, “Oh why didn’t you check their rules and file (for an exemption)” and why I didn’t get permission to use drugs,” noted Hardy. “Well, because I’m not a drug user. Naturally, I didn’t think about that stuff.”
The NYSAC’s initially imposed punishment was severe, making an example out Hardy in issuing a six-month suspension and $10,000 fine.
With the harsh penalty came a touch of irony, as Hardy had been at the forefront in regards to demanding equal standards for women’s bouts as come with the male side of competition. The good fight continues for better pay, but a breakthrough came earlier this year when the WBC extended its Clean Boxing Program to female boxers for the first time.
Hardy was at the front of the pack to enroll in the program, along with Serrano and two-division champ Katie Taylor, the latter whom has openly vowed to have full VADA random testing for all bouts which began with her 140-pound title win over Christina Linardatou in November.
It’s a road that Hardy—who turns 38 in January—is willing to travel as well, along with fighting the good fight to clear her name. Upon filing her appeal with the NYSAC and WBC, Hardy offered hair follicle samples to prove the testing anomaly was attributed to any other reasons than her attempting to cheat the system.
Because of the length in time that had elapsed through the process, such offerings were not an option. Efforts to appeal the harsh ruling produced a split decision, as she was forced to pay the fine but now has room to return to the ring in the first part of 2020.
Hardy will also volunteer her time with the WBC to raise awareness to drug testing standards and the responsibilities that come with being an athlete actively enrolled in such programs.
“I have been an advocate for testing for years,” points out Hardy. “I never took a PED and never will — they are dangerous to the user, opponents, sparring partners, while also compromising the sport. Ignorance is no excuse, which is why I volunteered to work with the WBC to bring greater awareness to all aspects of the rules, including those pertaining to prescription meds.
According to Hardy and manager Dan Hill, efforts are being made to secure a fight around February and for now at the featherweight division despite past weight struggles.
Most importantly for the dual sport athlete—who also competes in Bellator MMA—was the ability to resume her career in a timely fashion, and with a clean slate.
“The opportunity to fight again is what I’m grateful for,” notes Hardy. “There was a small percentage of boxing fans who truly believed I was a cheat. It bothered me to read their comments (on social media) but I really appreciate the incredible support from all of my fans who knew that I am a clean fighter.
“To be able to return to the ring with my reputation as a clean fighter is the most important thing. I’m a boxer, this is what I do.”
Thanks to a change of heart at state headquarters, she will once again get to do it at least two months sooner than expected.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox