Hall of Fame

Cross Country 1983 (1)
Paul Gompers
Track & Field/Cross Country

Graduation Year

1986-87

Induction Year

2023

Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

All-American in cross country (1986) … Set Harvard records in the 5,000 meters indoors and the 5,000 and the 10,000 meters outdoors … Ivy League Champion in the 5,000 (1987) … 4-year letterwinner in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track … 3-time first team All-Ivy in cross country … Set records during his time at Harvard in the 10,000 meter Cross Country Nationals and Heps Cross Country course record … Placed 5th at the 1986 NCAA Championships, the top finish ever by a Harvard athlete until that point in time …Second Team Academic All American (1987) …Set the World Junior Record and still the American Junior Record Holder in the marathon … Member of the 1983 and 1988 US Cross Country National Team … Bronze medalist in the marathon at the 1985 World University Games … US National 20km Champion (1989) … Competed at the US Olympic Trials three times (1984, 1988, and 1992) … 1988 Olympian for Team USA

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

I want to thank the Varsity Club and the Hall of Fame Selection Committee for this honor.  It is particularly meaningful to have so many members of my family here with me. My wife Jody Dushay, my three daughters, Sivan, Annika, and Zoe. Josh Schulman, Sivan’s husband (my son in law!), Ben Huffman, Annika’s fiancé, my mother, Mary, and my father-in-law, Fred Dushay. 

Harvard Track and Field and Harvard Athletics is central to who I am and has been a consistent presence in my life for forty years; first as an athlete on the Cross Country and Track teams, then as a member of the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletics for nearly 20 years, and a couple decades as a faculty fellow to the Track and Field Team. Those experiences have taught me life skills, something we economists like to call building human capital, that have helped me in my career and in life and have taken me farther than I could have ever imagined. 

I was the first student from my school in rural Southern Illinois to attend an Ivy League college. I had actually never been on an airplane until the Cross Country team flew to NCAA regionals my freshman year.  I can honestly say that Harvard Track and Field has shaped me as a person as well as a family. Not only did I meet my wife, Jody, on the Harvard Track team, but my daughter Annika met her fiancé, Ben, on the Harvard Track team. Who needs Hinge when you have Harvard Athletics? 

If you will allow me a moment, I would briefly like to connect two topics this evening: the role of athletics in elite colleges and my own experience while at Harvard College. Recently, the admissions process at elite colleges has come under fire. As it relates to Harvard Athletics, the leg up that recruited athletes get in the admissions process has been put under the microscope. But we all know that the motto of Harvard Athletics--Education through Athletics -- rings true.  We learn things on the field, in practice, in our time competing that help us later in life. Things like goal setting, teamwork, dealing with failure, that help us when we leave Harvard. In a recent academic paper, I gathered data on historical varsity athletes in the Ivy League, 40,000 athletes going back to the 1970s.  I then looked at the careers of athletes and non-athletes who graduate from these schools.  We have data on over 400,000 Ivy graduates over their entire careers and we found that athletes do in fact do better in their careers. Controlling for whatever you want to control for, they earn more in terms of salary, achieve higher seniority in their firms, and are more likely to attain C-suite leadership positions. This is despite the fact that athletes tend to ever so slightly underperform academically while in school. Participation in intercollegiate varsity athletics teaches things that you can’t learn in the classroom.

I think this is illustrated poignantly in the most memorable experience during my time as a Harvard athlete.  It wasn’t any HEPS championship, or any trip to the NCAA championships, or  All-American honors. It wasn’t even the spring break training trips to Houston or traveling to England to compete in the Harvard-Yale vs. Oxford-Cambridge dual meet in Track. 

During my junior year, I was honored to be selected to represent the US at the World University Games in Kobe, Japan.  That meant training over the summer for the competition which took place in August. I lived with four Harvard track teammates that summer in Somerville (before it was hip); Steve Pinney, John Perkins, Andy Gerkin, and Jim MacDonald. We had an amazing summer of trips to Walden Pond, Crane’s Beach, and just hanging out. My last tune-up race before the Games was in New Hampshire and Andy Gerkin came to compete with me. My parents, Steve and Mary, had driven all the way from St. Louis to watch. Now my father had been the inspiration to my participation in athletics.  He would take me to professional sporting events in St. Louis, encourage me to join my school’s sports teams, and had become a runner himself after my pursuit of the sport.  The race went well and after the race my father joined me for an easy cool-down run. When we got back from the cooldown, my father said he felt dizzy and collapsed in front of me. He had had a massive heart attack and passed away instantly.

Needless to say, my mother and I were shocked.  She flew back to St. Louis with my father’s body. Without any hesitation, Andy said he would drive the 20 hours to St. Louis with me in my parents’ car.  We drove straight through the night and Andy was the rock I needed. He knew his teammate was struggling and needed support. But the support of teammates went even beyond that.  Two days later, a dozen teammates and my coach, Eddy Sheehan, himself a Harvard Track and Field athlete from the 1970s, showed up at my house. This was before cell phones and the Internet, how did they even find me?! Somehow word had spread and my teammates just showed up for me. 

On the morning of the funeral, five of the distance runners and Eddy showed up at my house to go for a run. I can’t even remember where we ran or how far, and I know we didn’t say a single word the whole run. It was everything to just appreciate their love and support. 

I left a week later for Japan and ran well enough to win the bronze medal. In addition to imagining my father running with me, I also felt the presence of my teammates and coaches on the streets of Kobe, encouraging me from across the world to run faster. This is something you can’t learn in the classroom. The human capital, the skills learned through hours of training and competition and the bonds of teamwork that teach us to maximally support those around us, create enormous value for the organizations we join and society as a whole. This is the soul of Harvard Athletics. Thank you.

Login