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.
Heidi Nocka, Women's Heavyweight Crew
Hometown: Harvard, Mass.
Concentration: Human Development & Regenerative Biology
House Affiliation: Winthrop
T-1 week of classes, T-4 weeks of competition, and T-1 month until graduation left. Wow, and to think only four years ago I was reaching out to my coaches hoping they would want me as one of their athletes for the 2014-2015 recruiting year. A lot has happened between that first prospective athlete email I sent, and this essay I write today. My experience with Harvard Athletics has been both challenging and encouraging. As a student-athlete at Harvard College you learn the true meanings of time management, dedication, preparation, and achievement. You learn very quickly in the first semester how imperative time management is to succeed not just in the classroom, but to excel in your sport as well. Being a student-athlete here teaches you to have a meticulous balance of class time, practice, travel time, meals, and sleep. Even when you fall behind in one of the above categories, as an athlete you find the resilience to catch-up and hold yourself accountable for your success.
Sophomore year, you learn what it means to be dedicated. It is a year of academic challenge and for your sport it’s a year of limited rewards and higher expectations. This is the year of the grind. This year you stick your feet in the ground, you tackle harder classes, choose your concentration, and in your sport you challenge yourself to do better than you did the year before. Only this time there’s no adrenaline like you had freshman year being a part of a new team and new school. This year is the year we go to work and expect nothing in return. This is where student-athletes prove their dedication because they are asked of so much and are rarely rewarded.
Junior year is a year of preparation. This year you develop yourself as leader on your team, and approach more niche academic endeavors. Some individuals pursue research and thesis preparation, while others begin to reach beyond their comfort zone trying out different Gen Eds. As an athlete, you are now experienced in the Harvard student-athlete lifestyle. You are expected to take freshman under your wing and also raise the bar for your team. This year you earn the respect of your teammates and coaches and take on more responsibility as a leader. This year prepares you to step it up one last time for your last season senior year.
Lastly, senior year. One second you’re a junior and the next you’re the top of the ladder. You are it. You are the seasoned leaders on the team knowing all the Gen Ed gems, and have the most experience facing the other Ivy teams. You are not only given the responsibility to lead, but you now truly fit that position. You know how long it takes to drive to Cornell, you know that Eliot dinner is only open to guests on certain nights, and you know that the athletic campus across the river is really your true home on this campus. You know that being an athlete at the top academic college in the world is not a disadvantage, but really one of the greatest advantages to achieving success. Senior year is truly a bittersweet year as you approach the finish line of having “athlete” be a core part of your identity. It’s a year where we play our hardest some knowing it’s the last time they’ll play, and for others knowing it’s the last time they’ll have this same team by their side. This year we achieve our best, knowing it’s our last chance. We take some of our hardest most challenging courses and some even take on a thesis. The achievements of student-athletes come to a climax senior year as we see the finish line closing in. All of us know the feeling when you finish a competition and look back thinking you could have gone harder. We’ve all made that mistake and have learned that lesson at this point in our athletic careers. When senior student-athletes feel the reality of senior year, you see them step-up and you see them achieve as much as they can in their last year at the college. This year you see the athletic characteristics of time management, dedication, preparation, and achievement accumulate in each of the senior student-athletes.
While I will greatly miss walking to the boathouse on early fall mornings, rowing on the river under the stars, I will not miss 2k tests, 8 hour bus rides to New Jersey, or running from practice to my 7-10pm lab. Leaving will be hard, but it’s also a little sweet. This experience has redefined my limits and I will leave this school knowing myself just a little bit better. I reflect on this experience being thankful for the hard times that taught me my strength and the failures that showed me my limits. Lastly, I am grateful for my team that made it worth it, and the teachers that made it entertaining. Thank you to both Harvard College and Harvard Athletics for letting me be a part of the student-athlete experience at Harvard, it is one I will never forget.