Written Senior Perspective: Claire Harmange

Written Senior Perspective:  Claire Harmange

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.

Claire Harmange, Women's Lightweight Crew
Hometown: Andover, Mass.
Concentration: Chemistry and Physics 
House Affiliation: Adams

Our final race at the 2014 IRA National Championships taught me an unforgettable lesson of mental toughness. To prepare for this final race we visualized winning, we visualized losing, we visualized coming from behind and edging out our competition by tenths of a second. We remained behind for most of the race, and from my position in four-seat I could see the stern of the opposing team’s hull bobbing at the periphery of my vision. They seemed impossibly far ahead, but for the first time I found that I was not afraid of the race. We had envisioned coming back from an impossible margin, and we executed. I do not recall the last sixty seconds of the race, but our sprint evened us with our competitor’s bow. Our boats crossed the finished line within tenths of a second. Exhausted, we did not know until the medals dock that we had won.
I learned to row my freshman year of high school on the Merrimack River. We were eight freshman novice rowers with an equally novice coxswain coached by a teaching fellow in the history department. We rowed by sixes nearly the entire season most of us barely getting our blades in the water, but braving the cold, wet, and windy New England spring. By the end of that first season my hands had finally started to callous from the raw blisters, I had raced my first and second ergometer 2-kilometer test, and I thought, maybe, in four years I might hope to make the first or second varsity eight as a senior. In that time I never expected to become a college athlete.
Collegiate rowing does not have an off-season. We train for longer headraces in the fall, maintain a rigorous indoor training schedule on the erg in the winter, and race shorter 2,000-meter races in the spring. Rowing with the Radcliffe varsity lightweights has taught me discipline, sportsmanship, and mental stamina. Like many rowers, I find the months off the water grueling. The erg does not lie, giving each rower a split indicating speed with every stroke. Lower splits mean faster times, and lower splits come from sheer strength, will, and mental toughness. Ergs help build good racers, and my last two interminable winters with Radcliffe certainly showed this. Winter 2014 taught me fearlessness, while Winter 2015 taught me steady confidence. 
But, it takes concentration, dedication, and unwavering persistence to achieve the delicate balance and timing required of a fast boat on the water. This feeling of synergy amongst individual rowers can be fleeting and difficult to summon. At times it came to us easily and at others it felt impossible to attain. We named it the butterfly1, and I will never forget the fervor and patience it took for us to chase after it with each and every practice.
While I am proud of the persistent effort I put into the chemistry and physics I studied to obtain my undergraduate degree at Harvard, my determination to succeed has always been greatest when surrounded by my teammates at Weld Boathouse. From the white caps of the basin to interminable Tuesday morning erg workouts to delicious post weigh-in yogurt and warm team meals in Dunster, and later, Mather dining hall, I will remember Radcliffe for the comfort it gave me especially in times when I thought I would not and could not succeed.
Most importantly my Radcliffe teammates and coaches have taught me to race with heart, because it is the essence of the third 500-meters, and it is surely the only way to gain a length on a boat in the last 400-meter sprint of a race. I race for the thrill of winning, the exhilaration of making a boat fly, and for the joy of being a Radlight through and through.