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.
Savannah Butler, Women's Swimming
Hometown: Iowa City, Iowa
House Affiliation: Pforzheimer
During J-term of my freshman year, I broke two of my toes. I was on training trip with my team in Tenerife and I accidentally kicked a rock. You would be surprised at how debilitating broken toes can be. I wasn’t dealing with a fractured back like one of my teammates; I wasn’t fighting major shoulder-pain like another one. It was toes that brought my season to a grinding halt. To this day, I still laugh at my clumsiness – but I also still feel that frustration. How could two tiny bones could affect my swimming so much?
The toes healed, and my determination returned full force – but now doubt had managed to creep in. I began to wonder if I even deserved to be here: studying at Harvard or competing with the teammates I called my family. Even if I hadn’t had that encounter with the boulder, I still would have spent my sophomore and junior years on the team kicking metaphorical rocks. I was caught up in my performances, I put too much pressure on myself, and I didn’t seek or heed advice on changing my perspective. By junior year, I simply didn’t like swimming anymore. While I loved the team, I had a hard time seeing the big picture. I stepped on pool deck this past August largely to finish what I started—I hated the thought of being a quitter.
But this year, everything changed. For the first time in a long time, I began to look forward to coming to Blodgett Pool. Bad practices didn’t bother me as much and swimming became fun again. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I didn’t appreciate the unfathomably difficult workouts and the impending post-practice exhaustion. But workouts – even those workouts – still excited me. They gave me the chance to push myself mentally and physically alongside my favorite people.
The group of women I trained with this year, HWSD 2017, completely changed my outlook on swimming and, at the risk of sounding too cheesy, my life. My teammates helped me find my love for the sport again and challenged me to be my best self every day, both in and out of the water. Although we walked away this season without an additional year stamped into our Ivy championship rings, I have never felt a shred of doubt that I am surrounded by a team full of champions. No scoreboard could truly reflect the heart and dedication every member of HWSD has, nor does it show the ability of every one of my teammates to rise to any challenge and to give their all for this team.
When I reflect upon my time on HWSD, my fondest memories are not of my individual victories, but of seemingly insignificant moments with those girls. I will forever cherish the bus rides home from meets, seeing my teammates on either side of me while surfing in Hawaii, team dinners after insane practices, locker room dance parties, the nods of encouragement I shared with my teammates before tough sets, and thousands of other moments like those. I may have learned about partial differential equations and Diels-Alder reactions in Harvard’s classrooms, but I feel that I received my best education in the pool, and more importantly, in those little moments.
It took four years of ignoring good advice and making my own mistakes to fully understand how to make the most out of my time on HWSD. This year I got a few good laughs out of watching my freshmen teammates make the same mistakes I made all those years ago, even after giving them the advice I received (and ignored), when I was in their shoes. All I can hope for is that they will learn sooner in their swimming career than I did how to enjoy the little moments – or, at the very least, that they won’t have to break any toes in the process.