The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th 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.
Fiona Davis, Women's Cross Country / Track & Field
Hometown: Manchester, Mass.
House Affiliation: Currier
It was a Sunday morning in late August. Even at 7:30 in the morning as I quietly slipped out of Canaday (my roommates would still be asleep when I returned that afternoon) I could tell it was going to be a hot one. I scarfed down the hardboiled egg I had swiped from the dining hall the night before and started nervously chugging water as I made my way to the Gordon Indoor Track. It was long run day and our first official team practice: my first test.
I had made it through team training camp, but as a walk-on, I was desperate to prove myself on the winding trails of the Battle Road at Minuteman National Historic Park. The coach who gave me my summer training over the phone in June told me I would basically have to become a professional athlete if I wanted to make it on the team. I had to be all in. I took her at her word and spent the summer doubling my weekly mileage from high school and trying to get my average training pace down, all the while repeating over and over in my head I believe in myself, I believe in myself.
On the van ride to Minuteman, one of the upperclassmen played pump-up tunes on the aux up front while I scrunched into the way-way back and tried to get to know the other freshmen without betraying my fears too much. When we arrived at Minuteman, we piled out of the vans and stretched for a bit, sharing some nervous laughs and knowing looks with what seemed like the entire running community of Boston who had come here for exactly the same reason—to get better and beat the heat.
Before I knew it, we were off, our feet making the pat-scratch-scuff noise I would come to know well over the next four years as the sound of tired feet on gravel that only Minuteman could produce. I settled into a rhythm with two upperclassmen who had taken me under their wing, and as the sun got higher and higher in the sky, we just kept running and running and running. The thing about Minuteman is, the first three miles gently ease you into the run. You go through a series of gently sloping downhills that turn into a shady, flat woodchip trail. But on the way back, your last three miles are a never-ending series of uphills that come when you are most tired. Of course, I knew none of this, having never run the trail before.
So as we turned around at the halfway point, and started to approach the three-mile-to-go mark, I was oblivious to what lay just ahead. The trail had been beautiful so far, I had managed to keep pace stride-for-stride with my teammates, and I couldn’t have imagined anything better. But then I started to feel it, the lactic acid burning in my legs, the sun beating down, the oppressive heat, and the hardboiled egg I had for breakfast. I managed to keep going through the first round of hills. I was determined not to get left behind. But the more experienced girls I was running with were actually ratcheting up the intensity. Somebody’s Garmin bleeped. A 6:30 mile. A minute faster than my normal training pace. With a mile to go, we hit one last little hill, a bump, really, in comparison to what we had already done. But that was the last straw for me and for my stomach. I careened off to the side by a rock with the engraving: Here Lies the Body of a British Soldier. Crouching on the ground I looked up the trail towards the upperclassmen, getting farther and farther away. I picked myself up and started sprinting. I still felt pretty bad, but there was no time for excuses. I caught up to my group just before making the final turn for home. My teammates looked at me with an expression that was a mix between bewilderment and respect.
We finished the run, and immediately I felt surrounded by rest of the team, telling me how awesome Sunday brunch was going to be. I smiled and wiped puke off the side of my face as I squeezed back into the van between some of the Mid D guys. Brunch that afternoon did not disappoint. In fact it never has. There have been times over the past four years when I have felt like that freshman crouching on the side of the trail. But the promise of good banter at Sunday Brunch and the friendship I have felt every day since then has never failed to pick me up and motivate me to keep going. I am proud that over my four years, I was able to go from a long-shot walk on to a top-five scorer in every cross-country meet this fall, including the grueling NCAA Regionals at Buffalo where we ran through single digit temps, biting wind, and frozen mud up to our calves. But I could not have done that without my teammates, especially in my senior year, who supported me, accepted me for who I was, and made me feel that I had nothing left to prove.