Written Senior Perspectives: Shilpa Tummala

Written Senior Perspectives: Shilpa Tummala

The 2016 Senior Perspectives is the 11th 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 2016 Senior Perspectives, click here.

Shilpa Tummala, Women's Basketball
Hometown: Phoeniz, Ariz.
Concentration: Neurobiology
House Affiliation: Qunicy

I’m not sure that words could suffice to attempt to capture the physical, emotional and mental journey that I have experienced in my four years as a Harvard student-athlete. I fell in love with basketball at a very young age, a competitor from the start.

Growing up, I always felt slightly out of place, as if no one really could understand me. I was an insecure, oversized eight-year-old tomboy, who had skipped a grade, placing me in the perfect position to be an outcast. So, as you can only imagine, I found myself searching for a place of solace, immersing myself in any and every extracurricular activity available to me. Basketball ended up being my constant. There was something truly enticing about playing a sport that transcended age, gender, and ethnicity—and I was immediately hooked.

When I stepped onto Harvard’s campus four years ago, I could never have imagined the rollercoaster of a journey that I would endure. Harvard was my clean slate—it was a place where no one knew my past and I was in complete control of my future (or so I thought). Unfortunately, much of my first two years as a Harvard athlete were spent battling back-to-back season-ending shoulder surgeries. Basketball gave me purpose for the better half of my life and without it, I was lost, once again. As I stared into the face of adversity my sophomore year, unable to lift my right hand above my head, I realized that my ability to put the ball in the hoop could no longer define me. I realized that I had to start defining myself in a way that would be long-lasting and these were the crossroads—my reaction to these tough transient times would determine my character in the long run. So I searched for what was really important, trying to confirm my cliché views that “it was bigger than basketball.” After two emotionally and physically draining years, thanks to the undying support of my parents, coaches, friends and teammates, I decided to stand firm in my belief that this—basketball, my team, my family, and most importantly, myself—these were the things, the goals, the people that were worth fighting for; and if, nothing else, these experiences would add to the trying story of an awkward, diffident girl evolving into a more empathetic, resilient woman.

As I approached my senior season, I couldn’t help but feel an intense amount of pride and honor to still be one of only sixteen girls in the world to be wearing Harvard across my chest, playing for a legendary head coach—whose greatest feat may arguably go beyond her iconic status as the winningest coach in Ivy League history, but moreover in her ability to transform naïve girls into stronger, more prepared women.

Living as a student-athlete for four years at Harvard has contributed to my growth as a friend, leader and mentor. Being a part of the varsity women’s basketball team taught me the value of both building and leading a community in good times and bad. Growth comes from learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable—and trust me when I say, there was plenty of uncomfortable. There always has been something beautiful about the struggle and the process—the highs and the lows, the smiles and the tears, the wins and the losses. However, I would argue that there is something especially life-changing and remarkable about the journey experienced at Harvard. So, as I embark on the next part of my journey, I can only feel thankful for the numerous incredible relationships that have been forged and the lessons that I have learned, all thanks to my experience as a student-athlete at Harvard. And for those who come behind, I outstretch my hands in a welcome to embrace the journey, as it is most definitely a special one.