Senior Essay: Katherine Mills

It was the 400-yard freestyle relay. Crossing over the 15-yard mark, I knew it was all about to end. At that moment Harvard and Princeton were tied, but someone would win. We were both tired, for we had just finished seventy-five yards at the end of a long three-day meet. Yet, despite the lack of oxygen flowing to our muscles, resulting in great physical pain, our arms spun faster and our legs kicked harder. I took my last breath and surged towards the finish. As my hand hit the wall the crowd exploded, before looking at the clock I turned to see the wall of  Crimson lining the pool deck.  The pompoms waved while everyone screamed, hugged and congratulated each other; it was like we had just broken the world record. I just assumed that we had won.

That was the last swim of my Harvard career. No one ever wants to end a successful career on a loss. However, I would argue that on that day, we did not lose. We were the victorious team, for in our response to our loss, we proved how much we truly supported one another. It is easy to celebrate when you win, it is much harder to find the merit in a race, albeit a good race, when you lose. Yet, not a single face had a frown or look of disappointment at our loss, everyone was proud to have watched us fight to the bitter end.

This was the motto of our team this past year; to swim with heart, fight, and unity.  Swimming has often been dubbed an individual sport, one where each athlete steps onto the blocks alone. This may be true for club swimming when the goal is personal improvement and not the betterment of the collective whole. However, that is definitely not the case once you join the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team. Although we do not have the luxury of being in direct contact during every moment of a race, while competing for Harvard you are never alone. The work you have completed with your teammates prior to the meets not only prepares you, but inspires you to swim fast. You enter into the pool with the knowledge and faith that you along with all of your teammates will give everything that you have to be the first to the wall. No longer is it important to swim for yourself, you swim for Harvard. With this mindset anything is possible.

When you take out the individualistic nature of swimming, what is left? The bonds of teammates. Over the years, it has been my teammates who have constantly pushed me to levels that I never dreamed possible.     

If you had told me before I came to Harvard that I would have gone to NCAAs three years in a row, that I would have gone to the Olympic Trials and that I would be making a run at the 2012 Olympics, I would have said that you were nuts. I am leaving a much better swimmer than when I arrived. The beauty of being on a team is that the disparate personalities expose you to different ideas and philosophies. Nonetheless, all of us come together for one common goal. It is through our attempt to reach this goal that we push each other and achieve successes we never thought possible.

As I look back over my four years, some things have started to fade. I can no longer tell you what time I went in such and such event or even what place I received. I have learned that those are not the important parts of being on a team. Wins and losses happen, but they do not define a career. Instead it is the people with whom you are constantly surrounded who define your athletic experience in college. The last day of my Harvard career solidified this belief. I have no idea what time our relay actually went, and could not care less. What I know is that we swam the best that we could that day, and I am proud to have represented Harvard and my fellow teammates.