Written Senior Perspectives: Sylvia Deppen

Written Senior Perspectives: Sylvia Deppen

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.

Sylvia Deppen, Women's Track and Field
Hometown: North Potomac, MD
Concentration: Neurobiology
House Affiliation: Kirkland

Being a part of Harvard’s track and field team has taught me so much about what it means to encounter major challenges and remain resilient. I was recruited based on the potential that I could do great things, score major points, and be a top competitor. Not reaching that potential has been one of my greatest struggles. But as much as I’d love to have been a success story of the athlete who faced incredible ordeals and overcame them to be a champion, I’ll be writing a different story. 

First, to tell my story, I need to add some background information. Like many people in the world, I have clinical anxiety. To me, anxiety is one of those things that I hate talking about because it sounds like I’m making excuses. However, for me, anxiety has always been more of a battle between my mind fighting frustrating to debilitating somatic symptoms. In fact, I did not realize I was experiencing anxiety until the end of my sophomore year. And furthermore, I did not begin to understand it until my junior year. The thing about anxiety, is that it is elusive. It tricks you into thinking it will protect you and save you from danger, meanwhile it inhibits you from doing the things you desire or need to do. So by the time I started addressing my problems, it had already been years of symptoms taking a toll on me. When I am stressed or nervous, I have stomach problems that barely let me keep down any food, I have constant inflammation that caused my injuries to turn into chronic tendinitis, and worst of all, I have exercise-induced panic attacks that make me feel like I’m dying when I’m already exhausted from hard workouts. This is in addition to the seemingly random days when I get symptoms such as fatigue or lack of concentration that make focusing nearly impossible. 

The reason I’m sharing this is because it is necessary for understanding the life-changing influence Harvard track & field has had on me. By being on the team, it is an understatement to say I have learned how to push through ordeals. And, I truly find it a blessing. For through ordeals such as pain, frustration, and apathy, I was given endless opportunities to grow. For each day I came into practice or a meet feeling hopelessly fatigued or panicked, I was given the opportunity to practice using my mind to control my body or trust my body enough to shut out my mind. I learned to summon the strength to sprint when I felt I had none left, to attack hurdles when I feared falling or not finishing the race, and to focus on the minute details of form and find positivity under stress. I learned to trust my training and trust myself. And even though my track career is coming to an end, I still have so much work to do that will continue long after I step off the track. The skills I’ve learned through this sport and with this team are invaluable, and I will take them with me into all aspects of my life. 

I am grateful to my coach, Tolbert, for setting a standard so that regardless of how we feel, we will train and compete to the best of our abilities. He demanded we come to practice with the right attitude and focus. And for a case like me, that was exactly what I needed. He helped me find consistency in training, the push to focus, and the drive run and hurdle even when I felt like it was impossible to move. I am grateful to my teammates for holding me accountable when I needed it most and just for making my journey across the river every day completely worth it. I am grateful to my friends and family for their unceasing support, especially my mother who has always being my cheerleader and reminding me, when I am lost, how to find joy in everything I do. And above all, I am beyond grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of Harvard’s women’s track & field team.