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.
Kristina Li, Women's Swimming & Diving
Hometown: Gaithersburg, Md.
House Affiliation: Winthrop
It was the last day of the Ivy Championships, hosted here at our home pool. While we were in the lead, we were pretty much neck-and-neck with Yale, and we knew that we needed to fight for every single point in order to take home the trophy.
My last race was the 200-yard backstroke, an event that I have a love-hate relationship with. While I knew that it was one of my strongest events, it was also one of the most painful, grueling, and difficult events that I swam. It’s not quite a sprint, and not quite distance either, so the best 200 backstrokers are those who strike the perfect balance between speed and endurance. I knew that this balance was what I needed to strike to score the most points possible for my team.
While my mind tends to go blank during my races (as I try not to think too hard about how much it hurts), it wasn’t the case during this race. At the 125 mark, a little over halfway through my race, every single muscle in my body screamed in pain, and my lungs were fighting and gasping for air. I could feel myself fading. But against all that my body was telling me, I took a big breath, flipped on the wall as fast as I could, and pushed off the wall for my eight underwater kicks.
The screaming and cheering quieted while I was underwater, and my teammates on the sidelines of the pool blurred. In this split second of time, under the surface of the water, I found that I had a quiet moment to myself to reflect. It felt like my years of hard work in the pool, from battling the pace clock to fighting for every single point for the most incredible team I’ve ever been a part of, from the humble beginnings at the summer league pool growing up to racing for an elite institution at the Division I level, all culminated with this one last moment. I wanted to fight, to race, and to win not just for myself, but for the teammates who I knew believed in me. I owed it to them, I owed it to my incredible coaches, I owed it to my parents, and most importantly, I owed it to myself to give every single ounce of energy I had.
It was in this moment where I made a decision to stop those voices in my head telling me that my body hurt, that my lungs couldn’t take it, and that I couldn’t beat those girls next to me. I knew that I could keep going, because I could ride off the energy from not only myself, but my team. And while I had to dig deep, I felt my body surge with energy and I finished the race stronger than ever before to place fourth, four spots above the place I started in. As I finished and looked to all my teammates, wildly screaming and cheering for me in the stands and on pool deck, I couldn’t help but feel like I was the luckiest swimmer in the world to have them by my side. I couldn’t care less what my time was on the scoreboard because I knew that it didn’t matter. What mattered to me was that I fought and gave it all I had.
This moment was representative of what this team has meant to me over these past four years. Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly the biggest team player when I came in as a freshman. But over the years, I’ve learned and grown more as a teammate and leader than I could have ever anticipated. So, thank you HWSD, because you guys have given me the most incredible learning experiences, the best support system and family away from home, and the most valuable of friendships which I know I’ll keep for the rest of my life.