Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Hall of Fame
Remembering Harvard Athletics
Several years ago, upon my retirement from professional track & field, a reporter asked me what I would remember most about my track career. I realized, with some surprise, that I cherish my performances at the 1990 Heps, and my 1989 and 1990 NCAA Championships for Harvard just as much as my Olympic moments. Although making the Olympic team certainly changed my life in profound ways, I can honestly say that my best moments in my Harvard uniform are just as dear.
This induction is especially remarkable for me because when I arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1986 I had no intention of participating in sports. I had given up running at age 12, and I was not nearly good enough at my high school sports, basketball and volleyball, to play on the collegiate level. I thought that my life as a competitive athlete was over.
Our freshman year was also the 350th anniversary of Harvard itself. The university invited us incoming freshman to attend the huge 350th anniversary gala which was held just as we arrived on campus. It was a gracious gesture by the university to welcome its newest, but for me, as if coming to Harvard wasn’t already intimidating enough, it magnified the feeling that I was a tiny minnow in a huge sea. I wasn’t just one new student in the class of 1990; I now felt like one student out of 350 years. The knowledge that at the time of Harvard’s founding, black people were not students, but slaves, added to my sense of awe at my position of attending the gala as a guest and student of the university. Walking into the Freshman Union the next day I stared at all of the portraits on the walls. I read the names and achievements of the distinguished alumni who had earned this honor. Not one of them looked like me in terms of gender or race. The stark truth is that at the start of my freshman year, I did not really feel like a Harvard student…I felt like a black girl from Brooklyn who didn’t belong. Yet I badly wanted to prove to myself and to Harvard that I was capable of making an impact here. I wondered how I would ever leave my footprint on 350 years of history. Like the Little Drummer Boy I was wondering what gift I had to give?
I cannot overstate how much joining the track team changed all of that and gave me a sense of belonging at Harvard. How lucky was I that my coach, Frank Haggerty, was willing to give a tryout to someone who had not run in over six years? How unlikely was it that, two years later, we would make Harvard history by winning an NCAA Championship together? As I stood on the top step of the podium in Provo, Utah in 1989 as Harvard’s first NCAA champion in Track & Field, the first NCAA Champion in an individual sport, I thought about my doubts from my first few weeks at school and felt that, at last, I had given my gift to Harvard.
Of course there are so many people who have helped me achieve my dreams. I would like to thank first my family. My husband, Andrew, has been by my side every step of my professional running career and beyond. His confidence and support are essential to everything I do. My beautiful children Travis and Maya give me so much joy and the best motivation for continuing to run… stress relief. My mother got me started in the sport when I was seven and has supported me in more ways than I can mention. My dad always raced me when I asked him to and never let me win. He taught me that I would only succeed if I ran my hardest. My sisters grew up answering the question, “Which one of you is the track star?” countless times without ever complaining. My grandparents, came to every track meet that they could attend starting with my very first, and always made me feel that I was “Champ” no matter where I placed. My coach, Frank, who gave me a chance and the best collegiate coaching to be found in this country. Last but not least, I need to thank Denise Adams, my freshman dorm mate who encouraged me to talk to Frank about joining the team, and then did not stop bugging me for six weeks until I actually did it. To all of these people and many others too numerous to mention here I am extremely thankful and I realize how much you have done for me.
In closing let me say that I am deeply moved by the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I am very grateful to the Harvard Varsity Club and all those who made this possible. The privilege of representing Harvard in competition has truly given me some of the most memorable and cherished moments of my track career. With this great honor you have given me what I so fervently wished for 19 years ago as a new freshman. I feel that I have left my footprint on Harvard’s history and that my portrait is now on the wall.