Hall of Fame

Nancy E. Sato
Swimming & Diving

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

Sato lettered in both swimming and diving and field hockey in 1975, the first year the Harvard “H” was awarded to Radcliffe athletes. That year she was the first recipient of the Radcliffe College Alumnae Association Award. At the end of her sophomore year, she was ranked No. 1 in New England and would stay in the top spot for the rest of her collegiate career. In 1975, she was ranked fourth in the East and was a 16th-ranked All American.

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

I was thrilled when I received the news of my induction into the Hall of Fame, and I am grateful to the Harvard Varsity Club for this wonderful honor. Yet, I feel the award does not honor me as an individual athlete as much as it honors a set of circumstances and especially an extraordinary set of people I feel fortunate to have gotten to know closely – splendid people, on and off the field, water or ice, both then and now. The legacy this award represents to me is not my own, but a combination of dedicated, caring people struggling to bring the joy of athletics to women, as meaningful to me in my life as it is for all Harvard athletes. My athletic success only happened because these people: coaches, especially John Walker, Harvard diving teammates, Radcliffe teammates, Harvard-Radcliffe friends, Harvard athletes from many sports, and above all, my family. What were the circumstances? At a painful time when Harvard and Radcliffe were trying to figure out what “parity” meant and how to merge Harvard-Radcliffe athletics, the athletes had a tremendous opportunity to shape a legacy that seems to be thriving today. Title IX ushered in a new era, thus the 70s became a very special time for female athletes, and the stories and heroics of those involved in the merger should not be forgotten. I would like to acknowledge these people because they are truly what makes Harvard-Radcliffe such a special place. By telling a few stories, I hope to begin a process that will continue and will ensure they become an unforgettable part of Harvard-Radcliffe history. First, consider the status of Radcliffe athletics when I entered in 1971. For field hockey, we had no field. We had to chase the Frisbee players and their dogs off the Radcliffe Quad in order to begin practice; we had to forfeit games when we did not have enough players with cars to drive us to our away games. We had no hockey coach, trainers, or physicians, let alone pre- or post-season trips. For swimming, our pool was non-regulation length, no diving board, and the Harvard IAB was for men only. I had to use the women’s bathroom for my locker room. When we wanted a team t-shirt, we had to design it and have it printed ourselves. Although this sounds outrageous and unbelievably dismal to some, the positive side was that Radcliffe athletes by necessity were genuinely dedicated to their sports for the sheer pleasure of athletics and for the close camaraderie we shared. That camaraderie also strengthened our resolve to improve conditions for women athletes at Harvard and supported our quest towards that goal. By 1975, we had coaches, uniforms, locker rooms, transportation to games, access to sports facilities and trainers, and the Varsity Club opened its doors to women: providing meals for women before games, offering varsity letters and other awards to women alongside male athletes. These are probably taken for granted by today’s athletes, but each gain was a major victory relished by each of us back then. These gains were due to the hard work of Radcliffe administrators (Mary Paget and Alice McCabe) and other Radcliffe coaches; but also to the Radcliffe athletes who tirelessly fought for equal access and to the Harvard coaches and athletes who supported us daily. Women in every sport have wonderful stories that we need to record. What we lacked in facilities and equipment, we made up for in spirit and top quality athletes. I persevered because I admired and appreciated my fellow Radcliffe swimmers, divers, and field hockey comrades, especially Barb Matson, Kyle Patterson, Susan Williams, Jeannie Guyton, Roann Costin, and Connie Cervilla for their companionship and drive to improve women’s athletics. No one deserves more credit for advances in women’s athletics than John Walker, the Harvard diving coach. Despite the fact that he was not paid to coach women, that he had to pay his own way to attend my competitions, and that he was told in many ways not to allow women to practice with the Harvard team, he insisted that I participate on a par with Harvard divers. He single-handedly encouraged my diving accomplishments with hours and hours of practice and devotion well beyond anything I deserved. When John came to Harvard my sophomore year, he was one of the best diving coached in the country, himself an Olympic quality competitor, but he had also just coached an Olympic medalist. Coming from Indiana and Minnesota [if I hadn’t grown up in Missouri, I probably would have had culture shock with his stories and humor!], arrived at Harvard to face a meager team – two male divers and me, a beginner. I had only started diving to avoid swimming individual events, but this was a turning point in my life. In that year, he took me from being almost dead last in the New England championships and Nationals to being New England champion for the next three years and qualifying for finals in the Nationals by the end of my career. I grew to love the sport for the athletic, intellectual, and personal qualities it inspired and developed in me, all thanks to John and the Harvard divers. Some of my fondest undergraduate memories revolve around athletics, especially the personal connections and character building that athletics can promote. I continually learned about myself – how to push beyond what I thought I could do, how to handle the highs and lows that life deals you, how to envision a better world and endlessly advocate improvement. I feel grateful to have attended Harvard at a time when I could begin a sport and still enjoy the benefits of intercollegiate competition. I sincerely appreciate Harvard’s priorities placed on a diversified sports program offered to all levels of athletes. For my own personal successes, diving had to be balanced with my passion for other sports (field hockey, volleyball, water polo) and my friendships with non-athletes who supported me in all ways, even managing the teams [thanks, Louise]. I feel fortunate that our class was the last to have all lived in the Radcliffe houses as freshmen, so we got to know a majority of Radcliffe classmates, friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Living at Lowell House and meeting an array of Harvard athletes also inspired my athletic endeavors: I am thankful to the swimmers and to the various baseball, ice hockey, and football players and managers – such as Leigh, Chris, Rick, Joe, Steve, Pat, tom, you know who you are. Most of all, this honor symbolizes the achievements of my family. Like their immigrant parents before them, my own mother and father overcame discrimination in so many ways to be the best parents and the most admirable people in my life. Their superb accomplishments enabled me to reap the benefits of their hard work, diligence, kindness, generosity, and love. I am forever grateful to my grandparents, parents, and three brothers. After all, my competitiveness and toughness must be due to defending myself and keeping up with them in their sports as well. All those hours my younger brother made me be goalie while he hit pucks at me, and neither of us played ice hockey! I am wholeheartedly thankful to the Varsity Club for giving me this chance to reminisce, and to John Walker for making all of this possible. Thanks to all those who made my Harvard-Radcliffe years some of the best of my life.