Senior Perspective: Women's Swimming's Alexandra Clarke

Senior captains and representatives of varsity teams at Harvard contributed viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard. Each year the Senior Perspectives are compiled into a book and handed out at the Senior Letterwinner’s Dinner.

Senior Perspectives thus forms a valuable portion of each team’s legacy to sport at Harvard and to the permanent record built here by our varsity athletes. Throughout the summer, these senior essays will be posted to for all to see.

My favorite memory of my time on Harvard women’s swimming and diving comes far away from Blodgett Pool: two girls doing an interpretive dance to R. Kelly’s “I believe I Can Fly,” as fellow hotel guests watch from their balconies. In fact, this dance was just one of many talents presented by my teammates at the First Annual HWSD Talent Show over winter training trip in Barbados this year. The talents ranged from the absurd to the hilarious to the downright impressive, and each presentation was a demonstration of the individuality of our team members. I think this will always be one of the defining moments from my experience in Harvard Athletics, for it never ceased to amaze me how more than thirty fiercely independent women could band together and unite as a team. 

My junior season 2009 ended in jubilation as our entire team, including coaches, jumped in the Nassau County Aquatic Center  Pool after our team clinched the Ivy League championship title. We only graduated two seniors from that team and we brought in an extremely talented class of freshmen last fall, so I found myself in a state of shock as the last day of competition, my last Ivy Championships, came to a close and we found ourselves in second place. My coach, Steph Morawski, and I went into her office during the diving break to add up all the possible outcomes of the last two events; it became depressingly clear that it was mathematically impossible for us to defend our title.
People often talk about the individuality of the sport of swimming, but this defining moment in my coach’s office once again proved the crucial team aspect of Harvard women’s swimming and diving. While I was happy with my performance at the meet, and I knew I would have the opportunity to swim again three weeks later at the NCAA Championships, experiencing our team defeat was a crushing blow. (Final score: Princeton: 1,465  Harvard: 1,438.) We had worked tirelessly since last spring to prepare for the annual Clash of the Titans with rival Princeton, and to fall short of the title by less than thirty points was devastating, both as a competitor and as team co-captain.

It is rare for one to be able to say they have worked at something for their entire life, but I can honestly say that swimming has been a constant in mine for as long as I can remember. I competed in my first meet – a 25-yard freestyle – when I was just three years old. At nine, I joined a club team and began the all-consuming journey of competitive swimming. My relationship with the sport has changed over my lifetime. When I was six, I used to beg my mom to let me go swimming during the winter because I missed the feel of the water on my skin. When I was eleven, I cried because I wanted to trade in my goggles and kickboard for horseback riding lessons with my friends. Two weeks after turning eighteen, I came to Harvard and became a proud member of Harvard women’s swimming and diving team and embarked on the greatest athletic experience of my life. I found a group of thirty-five talented young women who understood the brutality of morning practices and the profound reward of a “personal best time.”  Most importantly, I developed an everlasting bond with coach Steph Morawski. She is the quintessential college coach who, on a daily basis for the past four years, inspired me, trained me, and carved a specific path for my success.

I was fortunate to be part of very successful school and club teams throughout high school; however, it wasn’t until I came to Harvard, where we all wore the same suit at every practice and talked about what line-up of events would give us the best shot of winning as a team, that I truly understood what it meant to rely on your teammates for success. As a former Harvard record-setting breaststroker, Coach Morawski inspires us each day to be proud of who we are and what we can achieve together. Harvard women’s swimming and diving is special in that we can train our hardest every day to beat each other in practice, but come meet time we are a united force, and it does not matter who wins as long as the first swimmer at the touch pad is wearing a Harvard cap. 
As an Arizona native, I certainly did not choose Harvard for the weather, or because it was close to home. Rather, I wanted to be a part of a successful Division 1 program, but I also valued my education and wanted to attend a school that would allow me to balance my academics and athletics. During recruiting, it was clear from my discussions with Steph, and the HWSD team members, that Harvard offers its athletes a unique opportunity to succeed in their sport while living a well-rounded life as a college student. Juggling eight practices per week, studying, and attending class has been challenging, but the support I have received on both sides of the river over the past four years has been invaluable to my success as a Harvard student-athlete.
I have accomplished all of my swim goals, and now that my career has come to an end, I am looking forward to a new set of challenges that I will face out of the pool. Though I am not sure I will ever revert back to that little six-year-old telling her mom how much she misses the feel of the water on her skin, I do know that I will miss the competition and friendship of my teammates and coaches, and I will always be proud to have been a Harvard athlete.