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Runner fighting cancer to run in 21st Sesame Classic


Ben Harder has had to give up quite a few things in his battle with pancreatic cancer but there’s one item he won’t concede.

And that’s his 20-year streak of participating in the Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic.

This Sunday, the 61-year-old Levittown resident plans to make it 21 straight, even though he’s in the midst of a current round of chemotherapy treatments.

Harder will be surrounded by some 20 family members and friends as he attempts to walk a portion of the 3.1-mile distance on the course adjacent to Oxford Valley Mall.

No doubt there will be plenty of other well-wishers, too.

For many, including Ben’s brother, Arthur, it’s an inspirational story ... one of courage as well as determination.

“He found out he had cancer back at the beginning of the year,’’ said Arthur. “He was losing a lot of weight. 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 daughter 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.

“This year, everybody can get together and, just unfortunately it was pretty serious to the point that – he’s in his fourth treatment but he intends on doing at least a mile,’’ said Arthur.

“We’re all going to walk with him. I’ve been doing them on and off since the first year (1999). ... I still have the first shirt.’’

Ben’s doctors endorse the plan because they believe it will help keep his spirits up during this trying time.

He was once a power lifter around the time he attended Southern Mississippi University, ranked as high as 10th in the country for his weight class.

To see him now, with a significant weight loss, is startling to those close to him. But they know what he’s made of and that’s cause to be encouraged about the outlook.

Making this story even more compelling is that Ben works for a medical firm that manufactures prosthesis equipment for people in need of artificial limbs, such as amputees. Again, these are people who need a great deal of fortitude to cope with their health situation.

“He sees other people in need,’’ Arthur explained. “He (himself) looks different (now) but he doesn’t advertise it, doesn’t say anything.

“And he intends to go through with this. He will have his chemo back off by Thursday, he will try to recoup and, he intends to pick up everybody’s packet (at Oxford Valley Mall, during either the Friday or Saturday sessions). And there’s over 20 of us.’’

In addition to Ben and Arthur, there are three other Harder siblings – sisters Chloebelle, Rosen and Eleanor.

Also in the accompanying party will be Art’s wife, Jacqueline, and their daughter, plus a bunch of other nieces and nephews.

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.

“Ben knows there’s a good possibility he might not be here next year to do this,’’ Arthur said.

Those who know him or know of him are hoping the streak goes on for years to come.

Others who see him for the first time on Sunday are sure to be wishing for the same thing, too.