Written Senior Perspectives: Catriona McDonald

Written Senior Perspectives: Catriona McDonald

The 2015 Senior Perspectives is the 10th 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.

For a complete listing of 2015 Senior Perspectives,click here.


Catriona McDonald, Field Hockey
Hometown: Ipswich, England
Concentration: Economics
House Affiliation: Leverett

After months of fundraising with the help of our parents, friends, coaches and the local Cambridge community, in January 2015 Harvard field hockey was fortunate enough to travel to Argentina on our first-ever international trip. During the trip, we were not only able to consume vast amounts of steak, learn to tango, ride horses and fraternize with gauchos (oh and play field hockey against teams from one of the best field hockey countries in the world), but we were also blessed with the most humbling experience. An experience that jolted our realities and corrected our misperceptions of what sport is and should be truly about.

Prior to arriving in Buenos Aires, the HFH team had decided that we wanted to do some charity work during our stay. We dabbled with the notion of building projects or other such charitable endeavors, but the powers-that-be soon confirmed we would conduct a ‘clinic.’ All Harvard field hockey players associate the word ‘clinic’ with ‘necessary but boring’ – for clinic is synonymous with sacrificing a valuable Sunday on a freezing winters day to coach a bunch of teenage kids in a bid to raise money for our incredible program… but this clinic turned out to be different.

En route to our clinic in Argentina, we were midway through rehashing our elaborate coaching plan when our guides casually mentioned that we might have a police escort for the remainder of the journey. Why on earth would we need a police escort? Our bus soon began meandering down roads marred with signs of crime, poverty and scarcity thereby answering this question. Finally, we pulled up to our destination. Peering out of the windows many of us were bemused. There was no turf. There was no grass. There were no goals. Perhaps some charitable construction work would have been beneficial after all.

We had barely dismounted the bus onto the impending rubble before we were swarmed by hundreds of young girls. They looked up at us with eager eyes and broad grins while we looked back at them bewildered. How on earth were we supposed to coach all these kids with such limited resources at our fingertips? We had one ball to every 20 girls at best. Though the elaborate coaching plan was foiled, it took minutes for my commendable teammates to begin utilizing that Harvard education. My team improvised, and through disjointed Spanish they enthusiastically taught the sport we loved to the eager young bodies wishing to learn. 

I immediately began to admire these Argentine kids. With so little in their lives, they were so resourceful. Their sports kit was entirely inadequate. Playing a legitimate game was entirely unfeasible. But that didn’t stop them – nothing would. When one girl accidentally hit a ball at another girls face, the victim gave her a shove back, leaving them both giggling. I wouldn’t have been so forgiving if that were my teammate. But these girls offered me a whole new perspective. Field hockey for them wasn’t about one-upping their teammate. It wasn’t even about winning or losing. These kids weren’t counting goals – they didn’t even have goals. They were playing for the love of the sport. They were playing because they were forming friendships. They were playing not for the short-term lesson of how to hit a ball hard, but the long-term lessons that would empower them as women. 

Though el Puente Posible’s concrete ‘field’ was a far cry from our beloved Jordan Field, our incredible locker room, our amazing coaches and trainers, and our vast amounts of varsity swag, these girls and HFH had one thing in common: we were united in our passion for field hockey, the sport that taught us lessons that you simply cannot get in a classroom, the sport that brought us closer than ever to a group of phenomenal and inspiring teammates. And so in spite of the ice tubs, in spite of waking up at dusk in the eternal Boston winter to be told I am supposed to hang clean more than my weight, and in spite of the concussions, the stitches, the bruises and the breaks, I wouldn’t have changed a second of my time with the HFH team. For we have not played out of obligation. We did not play because we simply have a stick in our hand or a number on our back. At Harvard, we don’t even have to play because our scholarship depends on it. We play because we love it. We play because it is our passion. We play because we can lose ourselves in it, and while we do, we are empowered, liberated and immensely fortunate.