As I look back upon my four years of collegiate athletics at Harvard, I have a difficult time finding words that fully reflect my immense appreciation for the lessons my sport has taught me and how much it has enhanced my college experience.
In August of 2014 when I first stepped onto Harvard’s campus, I was both excited to be in a completely new environment over 5,000 miles away from home (Honolulu, HI) and terrified by the daunting task of adjusting to a new academic, athletic, and social atmosphere.
Running track for Harvard has been the greatest decision that I have ever made. In its simplest essence, you are competing to see who can run laps the fastest, but I have learnt that track extends way outside the confines of the lane you run in.
Since my junior year of high school, I have kept a paper fortune in the back of my phone case. It reads: “Success will be yours.” This little fortune is tattered and dirty, from Panda Express of all places, and relatively simple; yet, for me, it holds profound meaning.
Dear Harvard Softball,
Thank you. There is so much that I would like to say to you after these four years, but I think it sums up to just thank you. Who I am and who I have become is attributable to Harvard softball. Over four years, I have learned what it means to be a good teammate through the good, the bad, and the ugly (all of which I have definitely experienced) and how to push myself further than I ever thought possible.
The reason I, a farm boy from rural Montana, applied to Harvard was because wrestling had instilled in me a confidence and mindset that said, “Why not me?” Someone gets to go to Harvard to be great and it might as well be me.
About a week before our season opener I walked over to our softball field alone and sat in the dugout. I stared out to the field where so many emotions have been felt and lessons learned over these past few years. How, in just a few short months, am I possibly expected to say goodbye to a sport that has given me so much?
The night before my first practice, I read the Wikipedia article on the sport of cross country in an attempt to figure out exactly what I was signing myself up for. I have been incredibly lucky that the decade that followed that first practice has exceeded even my wildest dreams for what a sport could give to one person.
We all know the Harvard stereotypes – competitive, ambitious, hardworking. Those attributes might sound familiar to all of us from our life long relationship with competitive squash. Performing under pressure has become second nature, in the words of our head coach Mike Way: “I’ve been here before, I know what to do” – sounds like the perfect recipe to surviving Harvard.
There is something unique about pursuing a sport to the highest level as a member of a team, and it is particularly special to do so in a usually-individual sport like golf. Besides the obvious hard work and commitment required, being a valuable and contributing member of a team demands one bring an immense focus to every practice and competition.
When I look back on the past four years, I can’t fathom how to put words to all of those experiences and memories. And with weeks left to go in our season, how does one reflect when there is still so much to come? What I can say with confidence is that Harvard softball has taught me a lesson that is both unexpected and invaluable. So I will take these words to share with whoever cares to listen, how I learned that happiness is my greatest goal.
In the past four years, I have changed as a player, and as a person.
Being recruited to play for Harvard I had no idea what either of those two terms really meant. For a high-school student from Germany who had never really thought about going to college or playing soccer in the U.S., Harvard sounded about as reasonable of a place for planning your future as Hogwarts. But here I was, in communication with the women’s soccer coaches who wanted me to play for them, a process that I only learned later was called recruiting.
The funny thing about a wrestling career is that when you first embark, it doesn’t resemble a career at all—it’s simply something fun to do. You get to roll around, play some games, and essentially recreate what any five year old boys would be doing anyway, all while wearing a funny spandex suit.
Partnerships. From a tactical standpoint, working in partnerships and groups is critical to a successful team. Individual stars are always welcome and appreciated, but ensuring you have a championship caliber team revolves around being just that, a team.
It was a Sunday morning in late August. Even at 7:30 in the morning as I quietly slipped out of Canaday (my roommates would still be asleep when I returned that afternoon) I could tell it was going to be a hot one. I scarfed down the hardboiled egg I had swiped from the dining hall the night before and started nervously chugging water as I made my way to the Gordon Indoor Track. It was long run day and our first official team practice: my first test.
During my first week of practice with Harvard women’s swimming and diving, I managed to concuss myself. For one of our first dryland circuits, I was paired up with Kendall Crawford, a junior on the team at the time. Kendall is a beautiful, accomplished school record holder, and I wanted to prove myself in our first workout together.
I never expected to pick up ballroom dancing - or any club sport for that matter - when I came to college. College athletics just weren’t on my radar - besides a couple years in high school running (very slowly) with the cross country team, the only sort of organized sport I had ever done was some little league in second grade.
I’ve always been better at knowing what I don’t want as opposed to what I do want. Perhaps the biggest exception to this is knowing that I’ve always wanted to play college softball. But even as that dream became more and more of a reality, I could never clearly remember how I pinpointed where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to go to a high-academic college, but when Harvard and the Ivy League came up in conversation with my coaches at the time, I still remember the exact words of 15-year-old me who had just started the long, grueling recruiting process: “No way, that’s way too intense for me.”
Looking at the faces of the seniors my freshman year, I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was to be at Harvard. Making it to the national championship game was incredibly special, but what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t special because of the wins, it was special because of the individuals wearing the H.
Each day when I walk through the Dillon doors, I reach up and put my hand on those words, words that have motivated, inspired, and humbled me. To tap the quote is to understand the value of effort for its own sake, the combination of passion and perseverance. To tap the quote is to recognize that the man in the arena is there alone. His domain is the extra mile, the early morning, the late night, the empty gym. Putting a hand on those words is a reminder of the lows and the highs, the wins and the losses, of the setbacks and the comebacks, of the pain and the pride. Roosevelt’s words speak to the dreamer in me. They remind me of the little boy that fell in love with baseball eighteen years ago.
I came into Harvard with a lot of expectations for my collegiate running career. Coming from a high school without a track team, I was so excited to join a group of women that would make my running more enjoyable and more successful.
It was the last day of the Ivy Championships, hosted here at our home pool. While we were in the lead, we were pretty much neck-and-neck with Yale, and we knew that we needed to fight for every single point in order to take home the trophy.
For the rest of my life, I will be indebted to the sport of wrestling and Coach Weiss for giving me the opportunity to enter the Harvard wrestling family. Anyone who subjects themselves to the unparalleled physical and mental brutality of division one wrestling can speak of the growth to which the sport contributes, but the Harvard wrestling family benefited me in ways I believe few programs could have done.
Eighteen years ago, I started tennis because I was promised I could have a red Gatorade after every tennis practice. Flashing forward to the end of my career, I never knew that I would be promised an Ivy League education, life-long teammates, and countless memories on and off the court.