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.
Olivia Startup, Field Hockey
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia
House Affiliation: Adams
When I arrived on campus freshman year, I really had no clue what to expect of the next four years to come. After a few days trying to get to know my new teammates, we were caught up in the whirlwind of preseason training and soon the beginning of classes. Being a part of a team certainly made the transition to university a little less terrifying because it gave you an instant support system. Right off the bat, I had an incredible group of girls going through the same challenges and experiences as me, with everyone from sophomores to seniors lending advice and guidance through the madness of freshman year.
When I look back on my time with Harvard field hockey, there are some obvious achievements that I will always be proud of: going undefeated in the Ivy League in 2016 for the first time in program history, winning the 2016 Ivy League Championship for the for the first time in twelve years, and achieving a new program record for wins in a single season in 2017. But at the end of the day, the successes and failures haven’t mattered so much as the people that I’ve had by my side through these experiences. All the morning workouts, the run tests, the practices, the wins, and the losses, mean nothing without the team around you. They are the ones pushing you to train harder, they are the ones inspiring you to play better, and they are the ones who are there for you when you struggle.
This past year, my team has carried me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. Three weeks after the final game of my varsity career, my mom passed away from metastatic breast cancer. I was able to fly home to spend her last week in the hospital with her and the rest of my family, which I would not have been able to do without the support of friends, family, and the Harvard community. My teammates sat with me in my room while I frantically packed my bags to return home early for the semester. While I was home, a package arrived, overflowing with letters and pictures from every single teammate and coach. Former HFH teammates from across the world reached out in support of my family and me. It’s hard to put into words how such an incredible display of love and support can help you through such a dark time. Coming back to school to complete my final semester was daunting, but it was made much more bearable by the knowledge that I would have a community that would be there to support me.
Just three weeks before my mom passed away, my parents flew out to participate in the time-honored tradition of walking the seniors onto the field during the final home game of the season to celebrate their athletic achievement. When I was a freshman, my mom had witnessed this senior day celebration and told the parent next to her in the stands, “I want to be there for that.” At that point she had been living with stage four cancer for two years. While my mom may not be able to see me walk across the stage for graduation this spring, Harvard field hockey gave us our own sort of graduation and the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come over the last four years.
As I was leaving school to be with my mom in the hospital, one of my teammates gave me a framed photo of my parents and me on senior day. I brought that photo to the hospital, where my mom kept it proudly by her bedside and would tell every new nurse and doctor that came into her room about the tradition. When I came to Harvard four years ago, I think I believed the field hockey team would be similar to that of my high school teams: a group of girls who love the sport, work hard, and have fun. What I didn’t necessarily expect to find was such a true sense of community and support. This team has carried me through the major and minor successes and hardships during my time here at Harvard, and I am that much stronger for having been a part of it.