Senior Perspectives: Women's Heavyweight Crew's Christine Baugh

Senior captains and representatives of varsity teams at Harvard contributed viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard. Each year the Senior Perspectives are compiled into a book and handed out at the Senior Letterwinner’s Dinner.

Senior Perspectives thus forms a valuable portion of each team’s legacy to sport at Harvard and to the permanent record built here by our varsity athletes. Throughout the summer, these senior essays will be posted to for all to see.

Radcliffe crew was started in 1971 by a group of women athletes at Radcliffe College, Harvard’s female counterpart, who wanted to learn the basics of rowing and have the opportunity to compete. In the following years, these women placed third (1972) and first (1973) at the national championships, and were selected to represent the United States at the World Championships in 1973.

While Harvard is now a coed institution, and Radcliffe College has been converted into Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Radcliffe crew stands as a testament to the strong women who came before us and not only had to compete against their opponents, but also against the precedents, ideologies, and norms of their time in order to race.

If you would have told me four years ago that I would now be a captain of Radcliffe crew, I don’t know if I would have believed you. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to tell you that Radcliffe crew was the women’s rowing team at Harvard University. You see, four years ago I ran cross country and track in Lone Jack, Missouri. I had never been in a racing shell. I had never held an oar. I had never even seen a rowing competition. Rowing, to me, was more of an abstract concept than a tangible reality.

Clearly, in the past four years, a lot has changed. I have learned how to row. Perhaps more importantly, I have understood what it means to be a part of a crew. In my four years at Harvard, I have learned a lot. My Harvard experience has been one of constant growth, exploration, and discovery, but it is through rowing that I have learned the most about myself.

In practice during the many windy, rainy, brutally cold days on the Charles, I realize the strength of my mind can overcome the difficulty of the physical conditions nature presents. When we are running the stairs of the Harvard Stadium, and my legs feel like lead and my lungs burn, I realize the amazing strength and resilience of my body. When I am at the start of a race with my teammates, sitting still, the opposing team in their boat next to us, I understand the beautiful synchrony of all eight rowers required to propel our boat to victory.

And when we reach the final strokes of the race, the most difficult and exhilarating strokes to the finish line, our bodies far into oxygen deprivation, I realize that I am part of something even bigger than my myself or my boat or my team; I am a part of one of the most historic rowing programs at one of the most historic schools in the United States. In the invigorating and excruciating final strokes of a 2,000 meter race, I am thankful for the women of Radcliffe who fought for the experience that has taught me so much about myself.

While the Harvard Department of Athletics is now committed to its mission “Athletics for All Students,” a lot can be learned from the experience of the Radcliffe women. What their story reinforces to me is that, with hard work and determination anything is possible, whether in athletics, academics, or anything else that comes your way in life.

Wearing black and white rather than Crimson and calling ourselves Radcliffe crew instead of Harvard women’s crew seems archaic or unnecessary to some. Maybe it is. But we choose to retain the Radcliffe name and wear the Radcliffe colors not as a means of differentiating ourselves from our university or our fellow athletes. Rather it reminds us of the historic origins of our team, the collective strength of all of the women before us who wore black and white, and the resolve of the women who had to fight for an experience that, today, is taken for granted. Wearing black and white and calling ourselves Radcliffe reminds us that anything is possible with hard work and determination: winning Ivy championships and national titles, excelling both in the boathouse and in the classroom, even becoming a captain of Radcliffe crew when only four years ago you were a runner in Lone Jack, Missouri.