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Senior Perspective: Sailing's Alee Perkins

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 GoCrimson.com for all to see.


On a sunny, November morning this past fall, I was bicycling back over the Anderson Bridge from weight practice with the sailing team when I heard the familiar sound of oar blades catching the water. I looked out and saw two Radcliffe crew boats emerge from under the bridge.  Speeding towards the intersection of JFK and Memorial Drive, I swung a left instead of heading back home to Kirkland House.  I pedaled hard to keep up with the boats as they moved upstream, dodging tree roots as I kept glancing out at the crews. I nearly wiped out several times for failing to watch where I was going, so caught up was I in the rhythm with which the rowers let their blades glide along the surface of the river.  It had been nearly two years since my last practice with the varsity crew. But still whenever I saw crews pass by on the river, my heart skipped a beat.

I began rowing when I was 13 years old in Seattle on an algae-infested lake three miles in circumference. I grew to love the intensity of the sport, the camaraderie of the team, and the beauty of being able to make the boat fly through the water.  When I came to Harvard, crew remained a stabilizing force for me as I adjusted to a new life. Faces from high school rowing carried over, and the sport itself was the same. Yet, rowing at Radcliffe offered me something that high school rowing had not. Being part of the varsity team at Harvard was a deliberate choice. Practices were early and intense, and the time spent in the boathouse and on the water was long and often taxing. For these reasons, the lifestyle of a rower was different from that of other college students. And it was because we all had made the choice to row that the bonds developing between us became so profound.  Rowing workouts on the machines in winter were followed by walks home with wet hair that froze solid. Spring racing was exhilarating, exhausting, and at times emotionally draining. The remarkable part about it all for me was that I did it together with my teammates, and grew to know and trust them more than I did anyone else.

By the end of my sophomore year at Harvard, I had been rowing at an intense level for seven years. I went abroad in the fall of my junior year, and when I returned, I realized that the time had come for me to move on. And so I left the river to see what the world outside of rowing had to offer.  I wrote for The Crimson, I joined some clubs, and I was in two South Asian dance productions. But my life seemed empty without a team and without others who shared my love of athletics.

In the beginning of my senior year, I walked onto the varsity sailing team.  I had sailed a little bit in my younger years, and had always wanted to learn more about the sport but had never had the chance. The first time I went to the Sailing Center, the members of the sailing team asked if I was a freshman. When I said I was a senior, I received raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. Rightly so, perhaps. I capsized the boat countless times during the course of that fall. I tangled ropes and scratched my head over terms that meant nothing to me.

Yet, slowly, very slowly, things began to fall into place. Friendships developed, and my confidence level grew. I realized that I knew more than I thought.  And as I learned more, the more I appreciated the technique and strategy of the sport. I had begun to understand a new world that I had only ever looked at from the outside.

Now the spring sun has come out and I have one month left in my college experience. I am coxing and coaching the Kirkland IM crew in the mornings and sailing in the afternoons. With so many hours on the river, I am in many ways living my ideal life.

I know that my story is not typical of a varsity athlete. Yet, I felt compelled to write this essay because athletics have played a profound role in my life at Harvard.  From building athletic skills that will last me a lifetime, to forming friendships over happy times and tragic loss, I am deeply grateful that I was able to partake in varsity athletics. I am honored to say that I rowed for Radcliffe crew, just as I am proud to say that I am a member of the Harvard sailing team. I will take my love for both sports with me as I continue forward.