Senior Perspectives: Women's Swimming's Kay Foley

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.

“What are you doing over Christmas break?”  That’s a questions I’ve been asked numerous times, like many other people while growing up.  My answer was always the same. “Training. Swimming,” I would say anxiously, and a little jealous of my classmates who would enjoy a week of sleeping in and movie-watching.  Quickly that emotion would leave me as I would tell myself that all my hard work would pay off.  And pay off it did indeed.

My answer to this question would change once I made it to Harvard. I would say, “I’m spending it with my team.”  While my break would still be spent swimming and training, I would be given the added bonus of saying I was going to Puerto Rico, Key West, St. Croix, or Barbados.  The difference between my breaks at Harvard and my breaks at home was more than just the destination, however.  My change in answer says it all. I was part of a team, part of something bigger than me.  I was no longer training in the hopes that my hard work would benefit myself, I was training so that an incredible group of young women would have faith in their ability to lean on me.

Growing up, swimming was never a team sport to me.  I competed for myself, against a clock without any regard for team scores.  When I was being recruited, the Harvard coach called me and I told her exactly this.  Thankfully, she saw an ability to change me, or perhaps she knew the magic her team, in particular, carried.  Before I arrived at Harvard as a freshman I felt my experience over the next four years would be one completely different from my previous ones as a swimmer.

Unlike many other nervous freshmen arriving at Harvard eager to make friends, I had thirty of them before I even arrived.  I had a group of girls who would prove to be there when I needed and who would support me in countless endeavors.  They would be the first to congratulate me, wish me luck, and comfort me.  We would say every year that the current team was a special one, one capable of doing great things, and I believed this from the moment I stepped onto the team.

The environment at Harvard can be a competitive and stressful one.  Throughout my four years I felt that walking over the bridge was like crossing into another world.  It was a place to leave all that behind and spend some time in the water where I belonged.  Even when the idea of a tough practice seemed daunting, knowing I would be working for and alongside my team made it seem welcoming.  Whenever I was having a rough day, I knew there had to be someone else within this large group of girls who needed me to help get them through whatever obstacle we were being thrown.  Knowing that I could be someone else’s encouragement was enough to make me realize that their problems were mine and mine were theirs.  We were united in a way that meant our lives would become entangled and overlap beyond the pool.
Having the opportunity to lead this magnificent group as co-captain this past year was the biggest honor that I could have been presented with at Harvard.  This team of young women who I had relied on was choosing me to lean on in the biggest of ways.  I just hoped that I could give back in this time even half of what I felt the team had given to me over the first three years.  I anticipated welcoming the freshmen, supporting the sophomores, and encouraging the juniors to see how they were the inspiration for much of the team. I can only hope that I left the team with fond memories and maybe a few lessons.
My years over the bridge at Blodgett Pool will be some of my most unforgettable.  These moments helped me realize that my time at Harvard was not about what I accomplished as much as who I encountered. I do not know if I will ever have the honor of standing alongside thirty strong women behind a single cause again in my life.  I do know that even if a similar situation arises, I will forever remember my team at Harvard as teaching me the emotional significance of working for more than myself.  They taught me that I can be a part of something bigger, something extraordinary.