Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Hall of Fame
Remembering Harvard Athletics
My first memory of rowing at Harvard is of the signs everywhere on campus: crimson signs read “Crew Meeting: Wednesday. Malkin Athletic Center.” I remember others in grayscale showing the engine room of an eight at full tilt, with an arresting inscription: “It’s ok to be a geek. Just don’t be a pencil-necked geek.”
I admit I came to Harvard more of a geek than an athlete. I had experience on my high school tennis team and in Little League softball, and a sense that I was untested as an athlete. At the novice crew meeting, I was inspired listening to coach Hallie Gilman ‘94 explain how any of the walk-ons present had the potential to succeed in this grueling but beautiful sport. I never imagined that evening how much my life today would be influenced by my time as a Radcliffe oarswoman and Harvard athlete. I am honored to be included among this year’s inductees to the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame.
Remembering Harvard Athletics begins, for me, with place. Rowing at Harvard is being outdoors and facing the elements on the Charles River-- which can be magical or terrifying, depending on the day. Radcliffe racing is the wild weather of early spring: the wind and tides at Brown, or outrunning dark clouds up the Powerhouse Stretch. It is seeing the underside of the Weeks Bridge, and the crowds overhead, during the Head of the Charles, and a last glance at “37” before taking up the final section of Harvard Stadium. It is decades of history on display in Weld and Newell boathouses, and the walk every evening, along Memorial Drive or JFK, heading for a meal with teammates, where we would discuss every detail of that evening’s practice.
Over my four years at Harvard, across four different squads and numerous lineups, our collective identity was always consistent: Radcliffe crew was self-determined, we worked incredibly hard, and we loved the process. We had our peak performances when we stayed true to that simple formula, trusting our hard work and each other on the course. Each season, we brought our best speed to the Head of the Charles and the Eastern Sprints, and we qualified for the NCAAs all four years.
Daily, we worked on the fundamentals so that as a crew and a squad, we could compete as one. Novice fall was full of learning, and each day was a new challenge: our first row by all eight, our first Weld triathlon, our first race in the Foot of the Charles. Over the years, every drill and every interval piece (5’-4’-3’-2’-1’ was a favorite) brought us closer to our ideal. We developed camaraderie while supporting one another through the trials of individual testing indoors, and through the special challenge of seat racing one another for our places in the boat. We learned teamwork outside of the boat as well: together, we quickly and carefully loaded the trailer with delicate racing shells each weekend. Boat by boat, we coordinated spring schedules so we that we could train as hard as our competition, while pursuing our individual academic and extracurricular goals.
My teammates taught me many lessons on the water and off. I believe we inspired one another with the unique contributions we each brought to the boat: strength, length, steadiness and technical grace; humor and efficiency; a unifying voice in the last 500 meters. The academic interests, talents and life experiences among our team had as powerful an impact on me as the rowing, and I have honestly never known a more interesting or impressive group of people. We celebrated our rowing achievements together by jumping into the Charles River in all sorts of weather, and we also came together during difficult times. Radcliffe crew was like a family to me when I faced the sudden loss of my mother over the winter of my Junior year. I leaned on the team for strength; the unshakeable routine, and our shared goals, carried me through that difficult time. I am so proud of our small but deeply committed class of 2002. Raegan Kennedy ’02 and Margaret Winterkorn Meyers ’02, we put 100% of our heart and soul into our four Radcliffe years. I will especially remember the great racing with you, and our whole team, at Sprints our senior year.
Coach Elizabeth O’Leary has been a guide and a mentor since my freshman year at Harvard: supportive, wise, generous, and tough, she helped each of us find our confidence and individual presence in the boat and beyond. Liz taught me the fundamentals of rowing technique, and she helped me develop from scratch the fitness and mental toughness needed for endurance racing. Liz also led me into, and through, the world of National Team rowing. I remember completing an indoor workout at Weld on my own after a late lab one evening during freshman fall. Liz came over to my erg and pointed out Betsy McCagg ’89, who was just finishing her erg piece. Then Liz whispered words I can still hear today: “She’s training for the Olympics. You could do that someday.” Years later, Liz was a source of encouragement and ideas when I was training in the single; her office was always open for a chat, and she guided me through several US races and international regattas leading up to the Beijing Olympics.
I returned to Weld Boathouse in 2004, which served as my home base while training for the US National Team in the women’s single sculls. Though the single could be lonely, I always felt part of a distinctly Harvard team. I joined in more than a few Radcliffe practices, and several Harvard scullers, among them Adam Holland ’94, Jordan Sagalowsky ’04, and Joseph Medioli ’08, pushed me through training pieces. Assistant coach Cory Bosworth was a constant source of friendship and support, and Radcliffe alumnae raised funds for my racing shell. I was also fortunate to row with teammates from Radcliffe and Harvard as part of the US National Team. Caryn Davies ’04 continues to inspire me now, as she did then, with her fearless approach to racing and life.
I was incredibly fortunate to have had then Harvard varsity lightweight coach Charley Butt to guide me in the single from 2004-2008. Together, we worked on my switch from sweep rowing to sculling, and he helped me to succeed by playing to my strengths. I appreciated Charley’s extremely technical, problem-solving approach to boat speed; it always made for interesting, if sometimes unconventional, training sessions. Charley’s deep knowledge of sculling and his creativity were only part of the equation; he also understood the motivations and frustrations of small-boat rowers. Charley could help me take the toughest stretches of training, and the uncertainty I faced as an amateur athlete, and turn them into a great story to which we were writing the ending.
I met my husband Dion Harmon while I was training in the single in Boston, and we are now happily raising our two children, Charlie and Alex, ages 4 and 2. When I compare my life now to my rowing days at Harvard, Coach Charley’s phrase “It’s a work sport,” certainly still applies. As a result of my Harvard rowing experience, I am confident facing the personal and professional challenges that lie ahead. I am committed to passing on the lessons I’ve learned about teamwork, effort, and following my dreams, and hopefully a passion for rowing itself, to my family, and hope to help the next generation of rowers reach their own potential in every way that I can.
My Harvard rowing years will always be among the happiest, and most formative, of my life. As a Harvard athlete, I tested my personal limits, developed a profound understanding of what it means to be part of a team, and challenged myself to reach the absolute peak in my sport. I want to thank Harvard for granting me this privilege. Thank you to the Harvard Varsity Club for the honor of being included in the Hall of Fame, and my congratulations to each of my fellow inductees.