The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Maile Sapp, Nordic Skiing
Hometown: Morrisonville, N.Y.
House Affiliation: Winthrop
As I write this sitting along the banks of the Charles River warmed by the radiant sun and slight spring breeze, gazing towards the infamous JFK Bridge (well technically the Anderson Bridge), I can’t help but think back to just four and a half years ago. It was a blustery January day when I crossed the bridge for the very first time as an eager prospective student. Little did I know how significant of a role this bridge would play throughout my next four years. You see it is not just any standard bridge that connects one side of a waterway to another. From waking up as the sun rises and venturing across the river on cool mornings, to racing back across in the evenings guided by the reflection of city lights on the water, the bridge is a literal and figurative pathway connecting our academics and athletics.
Having the opportunity to continue pursuing both my academic and athletic ambitions at such an incredible institution has been absolutely irreplaceable. Like the Charles River, that twists and turns its way through Boston, these past four years have certainly not been smooth sailing. However, my experiences as a student-athlete on the Nordic ski team and the endless support I received from the athletic community enabled me to navigate the demands and personal challenges I faced. Growing up in a rural part of Northern New York where elite Nordic skiing is uncommon, I had to train alone for a majority of the time relying on my internal drive and love for the sport. When I became a collegiate athlete though I was introduced to the significance of what it truly means to be on a team. Coming in freshman year with no idea what to expect and overwhelmed by the adjustment to new and rigorous academic opportunities, living arrangements, social groups, training schedules, and experiences, it was my coach, Chris, and teammates who immediately took me under their wing.
In such a demanding environment as Harvard it is easy to find yourself feeling lost. In these moments it was always my team who helped me re-find my sense of self. No matter what the day entailed, I always took so much comfort knowing that once I got to practice greeted by the warm smiles, crazy neon spandex, and pumped up by blaring music on our way to training, I could just let go. Every day we pushed, we motivated, we inspired each other, we cheered, we laughed, we cried. Through thick and thin we will always have each other for endless love and support. The Ski Team made Harvard home for me.
I have not just been a part of the Harvard ski team, but walking across JFK bridge on a daily basis running into other athletes all decked out in their Harvard gear, I was continuously reminded that together we have all been part of an even greater team- Harvard Athletics. Commonly separated by geographical, cultural, language, gender, and identity barriers, one of the beautiful things about athletics is that when you approach the starting line or wait anxiously for the whistle to blow, all differences are cast aside. It does not matter what your background is or how you identify, because when that whistle blows it is about you and being in the moment. Bringing together unique individuals from all parts of the world, Harvard Athletics, in particular, helps foster a strong sense of inclusiveness within the college athletic community. There is a powerful and incredibly rewarding ripple effect of coming together as one.
United by the countless hours dedicated to our training, rehab, and competitions in pursuit of similar ambitions, it has been so empowering to be surrounded by some of the hardest working and most caring individuals. The encouraging and inspiring presence of our coaches, trainers, administrators, and every individual within Harvard Athletics gave me the strength to push harder, dig deeper and step out of my comfort zone. Words simply cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to be a part of a team that has completely transformed and enriched my life. Thank you Harvard Athletics for giving me a backbone of support; for instilling within me the confidence to continue navigating the twists and turns that I will continue to face as I embark on the next stages of my journey. GO CRIMSON!