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.
Danielle Barbian, Women’s Track & Field
Hometown: Sussex, Wis.
House Affiliation: Winthrop House
An average sprinter from a small town in Wisconsin, I came into Harvard just feeling truly lucky to be a part of a Division I program. Freshman year I was awestruck by how much talent I was surrounded by and that feeling hasn’t faded. This team has surrounded me with the fastest, strongest and most extraordinary women who have helped me learn and grow on and off the track. These women have taught me what hard work and determination truly mean, have pushed me to my limits and have helped me realize things that I never thought possible.
Our fall training is the biggest test of mental and physical strength we have ever been faced with. Conditioning and lifting six days a week means battling soreness and digging deep to fight through it each and every day. Whether it is a heavy squat set you could barely get up for one rep, let alone six, a jump circuit where your legs seem to go numb, a sprint where you no longer have control of your legs or a long run where you don’t even have another breath in you, fall training pushes your body to it’s limit and tests how mentally tough you really are.
Although the thought of it makes me cringe, fall training has taught me some very important lessons - I am capable of more than I think, the mind is a powerful tool and you can get through almost anything with encouragement from those around you. After years of practically dying alongside each other (at least it felt like it at points), we have seen each other at our worst and have a bond that no one else will ever quite understand.
Track is one of those unusual sports where you compete as an individual within a team. When I get to the line, it is up to me to cross that finish line first. My teammates have entrusted me with that race and I need to do whatever I can to win for my team. The only thing you can do as a teammate is give your teammates the confidence to go out and run hard and scream as loud as you possibly can to push them to that great performance.
Even though cheering doesn’t seem like much, Ivy Championships this year showed me just how powerful that energy can be. I have always been more of a short sprinter. With little endurance and a lack of confidence, the 200m dash has always been a difficult race for me. Knowing this, at championships the team lined the track before the 200m final. I had teammates there as I tied my shoes, as I set my blocks and every single step of the race to remind me that I could do it. I have never felt so much like I was running for my teammates as they supported me through a race I didn’t even realize I had in me. The way that race and that meet came together for us as a team has been one of the cornerstones of my time with Harvard track and field, as it epitomized what success can be achieved through encouragement from one another.
Although these moments make everything worth it, being an athlete here at Harvard isn’t easy. Over 20 hours of training a week, watching everything you eat, making sure you get enough sleep and recovery – your lifestyle has to revolve around your sport. You can’t study, nap and party like other college kids. You have to give up the normal college experience because being an elite athlete in your sport is anything but normal. I have always struggled with the fact that you can’t have both. The fact that I have to give up my own graduation in order to get to the next level in my sport is something I can’t easily swallow. Being an athlete here at Harvard has been a challenge, but I’ve learned that nothing comes without sacrifice. You have to devote every last part of yourself in order to be something great. Although I have had to give up the normal college experience for four years, what I have learned about determination and sacrifice will stay with me for life.
Despite the challenges of being a student-athlete, being on the road always reminds me how lucky I am to have this opportunity. From high school kids asking our GPA, sheriffs and Uber drivers asking for photos or to that one question we always seem to get - how hard is Harvard? - peoples’ reactions of us being Harvard athletes has reminded me every day how incredibly lucky I am to have this opportunity. Being an athlete here has been a big challenge, but I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to pursue excellence at the highest level in the classroom and in my sport.