The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th 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.
Nicholas Gajdzik, Wrestling
Hometown: Rochester, Mich.
House Affiliation: Kirkland
They say that every athlete experiences two deaths; one at the end of their life like all other men and one at the end of their athletic career. Our first death is so painful, for we give so much of ourselves to perfect an art which we will most likely never seriously do again. For most of us, we will never go through our pre-game routine again, never feel the rush of competing again, and never have the feeling of looking forward to competing again. With that, every athlete experiences their first death at a different time, for the few it is after a fruitful professional career, for the vast majority it is high school, and for some it is with the conclusion of their collegiate careers. What then is the benefit of being an athlete? Why do we put ourselves through such pain knowing that we are merely ensuring ourselves a painful first death? Well, we do it for many reasons.
We love our sports, we labor so much in them that they hold a place in our lives beyond recreation, they become part of our identities, they become the very essence of who we are. So many of us do not say we are students at Harvard, rather we identify with our sport; I say with the upmost pride I am a Harvard wrestler, rather than I am a Harvard student.
We meet great people through our sports. Our teams become our second families. So many of us here at Harvard come from far off places like Michigan or California, far from home, far from comfort, far from family, But our teams fill the void. The familial bonds we form as teams, tempered in the fires of hard-work and competition, are unknown on collegiate campuses outside of the athletic sphere.
We do it knowing that it will teach us lessons that will serve us beyond our first death. Each and every student athlete remembers the late nights and the early mornings, meticulously spent perfecting our skills. Each and every one of us remembers the pre-competition nervousness, the doubt, the fear of failure and yet each of us also remembers overcoming these emotions and preforming great acts that we ourselves could not have conceived of. Each and every one of us remembers the joy that we experienced with our greatest victories, and unfortunately, generally more vividly, the pain of our greatest defeats. Each of these memories serves to remind us that the sports we played in college developed us in ways that most could not ever imagine. In those late nights and early mornings, we learned the value of discipline. In dealing with pre-competition nervousness and preforming to the best of our abilities, we learned the value of courage. In dealing with our victories, we learned the value of being humble, and in dealing with our defeats, we learned the value of grit. There are so many more virtues that we learn through athletics; integrity knowing that any fruits of victory obtained through ill-conceived means are tainted; passion, for only through the strong love of our sports could we continue to do them for so long. Athletics at Harvard have truly allowed their student athletes to wear the crown of virtues, to become magnanimous, an opportunity open to few outside of the athletic sphere.
Personally, I look back on my own athletic career with immense joy as it has given me more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. Wrestling allowed me to travel, it allowed me to bond with my family, and it allowed me to go to Harvard. Likewise, I thank Harvard everyday as it not only gave me the opportunity to do what I love for another four years but it also gave me a second family, a group of men that will be my best friends for life and it taught me how to live as a virtuous man. In short, Harvard Athletics, more specifically Harvard wrestling, has made me the man I am today and I will be ever thankful for that. My athletic experience here at Harvard has meant everything to me and while my first death has been painful, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The first time I stepped on a wrestling mat was in third grade. Fifteen years later, I stepped off the wrestling mat for the last time with not a single regret.