Senior Essay: Mary Miller

Rowing at Harvard has been the defining aspect of my time as an undergraduate.  Before coming to college, I knew that I wanted to row all four years.  As a graduating high school senior, I saw myself in the Radcliffe black and white, rowing in the fastest boats for the fastest teams, winning medals and championships and come senior year, finishing up a very successful athletic career at Harvard.

I knew that this would be hard work.  Growing up in a rowing family, I inevitably caught the rowing bug. Nevertheless, coming into my freshman year, I certainly was met with a few surprises.  Sprinting for 10 strokes, a minute, maybe even 7 minutes, that was fine with me. Ninety minutes of steady state?  Stadium tours? Not exactly the glory workouts I had pictured.  With a slight alteration of expectations, I knew I could do whatever it took to train hard and to win.  I knew that in rowing, unlike so many other sports, hard work almost always paid off on the water.

A month into training my freshman year, I tweaked my back in a practice.  I didn’t think much of it — a rower with a sore back isn’t exactly newsworthy.  I figured I’d throw some ice on it, take a few days rest and be back on the water rowing before the end of the week.  

What I didn’t know was that for the next four years, my injury would be a constant source of pain and frustration.  Already spending twenty hours a week in the boathouse, I’d spend about double that just trying to keep myself functional and rowing.  I’d like to say that giving it up never crossed my mind.   I certainly had enough people tell me it wasn’t worth it.  But seriously, quitting, walking away from the team and the sport just didn’t seem like an option for me.  

There are really two reasons why I stuck with it.  The first one is pretty obvious—I love rowing. Sitting at the starting line of each race that I have ever been in, it never mattered who was “healthy” or who was “injured.”  Two thousand meters, from point A to point B—that’s all there was. Whoever got there first, won; making excuses didn’t get you there any faster. The second reason was my team.  My teammates have pushed me and challenged me and made me better every day.  There is no doubt in my mind that without them, I would not be rowing today.  

In a couple of months, my college rowing career will end very differently from the way I expected four years ago.  It wasn’t one defined by the most success, the fastest erg scores or a seat in the top boat.  There is certainly a lot that I wasn’t able to accomplish.  Truthfully, I’ll probably never be okay with that.  But, as I approach the remaining races of my final season, I know that what I got from Radcliffe in return for what I gave is immeasurable.  My team has taught me exactly what it takes to do something most people outside of the boathouse said I couldn’t do.  Being part of something so much bigger than myself, meeting both success and failure together, and finding out exactly what each one of us is capable of, all have made rowing, for me, far more than worth it.