The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th 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.
Cara Kennedy Cuomo, Sailing
Hometown: Mount Kisxo, Ky.
House Affiliation: Kirkland
Any sport can teach you about time management, teamwork, and grit. Varsity sailing taught me that as well. But it also taught me about attitude, respect, community, and about the person I want to be when I leave Harvard, more than any class I took in the last four years.
In just the first few weeks of being on the sailing team, Coach Mike taught me an important lesson in attitude. In early October freshman year, I spoke to my coach, Mike, about moving down to JV. I didn’t think I was good enough to be on varsity, had no experience in high school racing, wasn’t picking up the technique as fast as I had hoped, and feared I was slowing my peers. Mike said it wasn’t important where my skill level was at that moment, rather, it was my attitude he valued– if I could continue giving it my all, then I’d contribute much more than quitting would. It wasn’t about where my skill level was, but about where it was going, and it wouldn’t go anywhere without the attitude to match. As I have pushed myself to learn new things and take on new responsibilities both on and off campus, I always am grateful to Mike and the resilience and positive attitude he taught me.
This lesson about positive attitude served me well on the sailing team. On the water, there are a lot of factors one can’t control, chief of all the wind. Sometimes you get a “personal puff”, but most of the time the wind isn’t going to be working in your individual favor. The important part is keeping your cool even when you fall behind. It isn’t easy. It can be incredibly frustrating to come back from a bad start to head into an upwind leg in first place, and to be able to momentarily celebrate your rockstar boat handling, only to realize a wind shift has accelerated boats across the river and knocked you right back in the middle of the pack. The art of sailing largely lies in not accepting defeat until you’ve worked your hardest all the way through the last leg. It is in using calm and focus to pass a few more boats before the race is over, even if it still won’t mean a first-place finish. Regattas usually include ten or more races, so maintaining a good attitude for each race, all weekend long, can determine final scores.
In sailing, there are multiple regattas a weekend and multiple boats of two people at each regatta. That means it isn’t only the “first string” that has their scores count for Harvard - every boat counts. Every member of the team contributes. Every member needs to work his or her hardest at every practice, because each boat can make a difference on the scoreboard. Each member participates so it is crucial that each individual maintains a winning attitude. That is part of why I have become so close to my teammates, one of the greatest sources of positivity that I have encountered at Harvard.
What I remember far more than the final scores of my regattas these past four years is the respect my team shows for one another. I never took much time to reflect on the fact that we are a co-ed team, or what that may mean. A teammate is a teammate. Apart from women-only regattas, gender plays no role in the way we practice together, work out together, compete together, and spend time off the water together. We respect each other fully, which I have taken for granted. After reflecting on the conversation about single-gender organizations on campus, I recognize how unique and valuable our team dynamic is. I have my teammates to thank for that, for the culture they’ve created, and also my coach, for the values he has instilled in us.
I have been an athlete my entire life, and have been on many sports teams, but have never been on one as fiercely supportive as Harvard sailing. When you are competing at the top level, you are surrounded by the most competitive people. Sometimes that competitive spirit can sour. It can turn people bitter, make athletes resent their teammates’ success when it means taking their place on the starting line. I’ve played on seven varsity teams and have seen the ugly side of competition, but I have never experienced that on the sailing team. The team has been nothing but supportive of one another, and celebratory of one another’s successes, even when competing on the same ranking. I’ve seen many of my teammates give up a coveted weekend off to sub in for a teammate in need. Often this means getting an early Saturday morning wake up call just when you thought you could sleep in, but I have never seen any of my teammates respond with anything less than enthusiasm. This is thanks to the culture the team has created, but it is mostly because of our coach. Mike has made sure we are always supporting one another, not only to help the team compete, but also to make sure we are always being the best versions of ourselves. He is someone I have always trusted, and knew was looking out for me off the water just as much as he was invested in me as a sailor.
I have loved being able to be on Harvard sailing. I would not be nearly the same person I am today, or nearly as happy, without my team.