Written Senior Perspectives: Haley Baker

Written Senior Perspectives: Haley Baker

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.

Haley Baker, Women's Track & Field
Hometown: Kensington, N.H.
Concentration: History & Literature
House Affiliation: Quincy

I did not have the athletic career that I had hoped for. Recruited as a multi-eventer, I dreamed of competing in the heptathlon. A string of hamstring injuries forced me to quit training for seven events, and refocus on how I could make a meaningful contribution to the team in other ways. Despite this unpredictable course, as I look back I honestly feel that I have learned as much from athletics as I have from academics at Harvard. I am deeply grateful to my coaches and teammates, past and present, who have taught me to love this sport and the lessons it brings. 

I have learned about my limits both as an athlete and as a person. At times, I found my limits were far beyond what I had expected. My coach and teammates pushed me to physically and mentally endure more than I ever thought I could. At other times, I learned the value of not pushing my limits, in order to prevent further injury and protect my own mental health. I learned that sometimes, taking a break can be just as valuable as doing an extra lap. 

I have learned about communication and confrontation. I figured out how to build extremely close relationships with people who are very different from me, and how to work collectively towards a common goal. I learned not to shy away from conflict, how to thicken my skin and voice my opinion. This sport has taught me to value vulnerability, and the importance of both reaching out and receiving support. 

I have learned to grow from failure. Track is a sport where it is impossible to excuse bad performances, you have nobody to blame for your results but yourself. It forces you to take personal responsibility for your actions and contributions to the team, not only through the points that you score, but through the energy you bring. 

There were days when I had to drag myself across the bridge to practice. My response to every Friday night party invitation was “I have practice in the morning.” We never have an off season. We start training in August, to get ready for the fall, to get ready for indoor season, which is immediately followed by outdoor season. All throughout college, I’ve blocked off the hours between 2 and 6 p.m. for practice, rearranging meetings, sections, and classes around my practice schedule. The grind has been constant and inescapable. 

Even when I knew that practice was going to be painful, or when I felt like I had too much homework, or when I was lugging my suitcase across the bridge at four in the morning to get to the bus for a meet, I never doubted that my commitment to the team was ultimately worth my time. As I popped my headphones in to walk to practice, I often reminded myself that I was not just going down to practice my penultimate step in the long jump or my acceleration technique. I was going down to practice resilience, commitment, communication, and leadership. I was going down to spend the next four hours with people I cared deeply about, to work together to get better at a sport that we love, and to accomplish something that has never been done before. My participation in athletics gave me the opportunity to cultivate the traits I aspire to embody as an individual, as a friend, and as a community member. 

When I was a freshman, I jokingly told my friends that I could graduate from Harvard with eight Ivy League championship rings. We are one championship away from making that dream a reality. I am deeply indebted to my coaches and teammates for making this experience so memorable, and will forever be proud to have been a member of Harvard track and field.