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Remembering Harvard Athletics
I first encountered rowing in a crowded room at the Malkin Athletic Center during freshmen orientation week. Bill Manning invited all students interested in rowing to attend. At that point, I had never heard of Harry Parker or Henley or Eastern Sprints. I just knew that I wanted to find a challenge and a team.
Bill instructed everyone to write simple personal information on an index card—name, hometown, high school, and rowing experience. Where my card read “none,” those to my left, right, and front each read “Junior National Team.” Those three words were all that I knew about these guys. I felt awed and hopelessly out of place. Two decades later, I know these guys better than anyone save my own family, but I continue to marvel at their strength and the incredible program we joined.
For most of undergrad, I struggled to see myself as a Harvard varsity rower. In fact, when Harry placed me in the 1V at the start of the 2003 season, I called my mom to tell her that she should fly in for the season opener—rather than Eastern Sprints—if she ever wanted to see me race in the 1V. But, while my faith in myself wavered, the program, like my loved ones, never stopped supporting and challenging me. Long before I could row a full piece without catching a crab, Bill projected confidence that I could succeed in rowing. Harry constantly reinforced the social contract of Newell Boathouse—that everyone who demonstrated commitment and persistence, from spares to future Olympians, deserved his respect and attention. And even the Olympians in the boathouse, like Adam Holland and Henry Nuzum, always cared enough to treat me like an important part of the program before I ever saw myself that way.
Somewhere between the unexpected success of the 2003 season and the confirmation of 2004, I embraced the notion that I was a real factor in the success that surrounded me. I felt that I had earned a place in our all-conquering eight. Then I recall crossing the IRA finish line in 2004 sitting in bow pair with open water on the field. Knowing we had won, Jonathan Durham and I dropped the pressure as the other six oarsmen went full-power for one more stroke. The sheer force of that stroke threw me back, and for a moment I felt the sense of awe that overcame me as a freshman in the MAC.
In a narrow sense, my Harvard Rowing experience feels unique. Sadly, for now, I’m the last novice to race in the 1V. My crew won Harvard’s first IRA, beat Olympians at Lucerne, dominated Cambridge at Henley, and reminded everyone that Harry never stopped being the best.
At the same time, it all strikes me as typical of so many Harvard successes. First I questioned whether I should be there at all. I encountered preternaturally gifted, driven classmates who later became my closest friends. I worked incredibly hard just trying to keep up. I enjoyed success beyond anything I dreamt in high school. And while I hope that some measure of my success reflects just rewards for my efforts, I also know that I was carried along by the immense forces around me.