Senior Essay: Ali Slack

As I look back on my four years as a member of the Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving (HWSD) team I cannot help but think about how much I have changed. In fact, I think change is the most important thing we gain as Harvard varsity athletes. For many of us, high school was a breeze. We were at the top of our class both academically and athletically, and upon acceptance to Harvard we were introduced to new challenges. We all had to adapt to our new lives as college students. It was a “sink or swim” moment. Fortunately for me, I had a group of forty girls to support me through this transition.

With each passing year, I noticed my position and perspective on the team change. As a freshman, I was clueless. I never understood what our team was really about. My sophomore year, we won the Ivy League championship, which was an incredible feat, and something I will remember as one of my fondest memories. Still even then, I was naïve. If you had asked me why we won the meet, I would have answered with, “Because we swam the fastest.”  Junior year , I began to understand some of the amazing eccentricities that made up our team. I served as cosmo queen, a quasi-coveted position, which entailed making numerous posters and signs to motivate my teammates. Senior year, as a co-captain, I began to see behind the scenes. I found that there were many elements beyond just practices and time standards that made up our team. For one, quintessential to any successful team is the coaching staff. I have been lucky to have amazing coaches throughout my swimming career, but I was truly blessed to end my career with Stephanie and Matt as coaches. They see the potential in every swimmer and work with her to make that potential a reality.

Along with great coaching our team has heart. After our Ivy League championship meet my freshmen year, we celebrated with a dinner for all the swimmers and their families. This was a long standing tradition that was discontinued after my freshmen year, probably for the best. I say, “for the best,” because the dinner ended with everyone in tears. My fellow seniors can attest to this water works, and they will tell you that I was amongst one of the heavier criers. Looking back, I realized that this is when I truly started to understand what it meant to be a member of HWSD. After the dinner every swimmer stood up and gave a speech. Seeing all these beautiful, intelligent, talented, and overall amazing women stand up and explain what HWSD meant to them was extremely touching. I remember Kay Foley (co-captain, class of 2010) read one of the most touching speeches. Kay read both her own speech and the speech of another teammate. The teammate lost her voice during the duration of the meet, so she texted Kay the words she could not say. This amazing showing of friendship has stuck with me throughout my four years here, but it was not until this year that I realized that this example of heart was part of what made our team so special. The sport of swimming teaches us how to be independent, how to set a goal, and to really go after it. But my teammates taught me the importance of being able to ask for help, and working in such a supportive environment gave me the courage to put trust in others.

Many of the changes I have undergone during my time at Harvard may be superficial. My hair is blonder and I have a few lines around my eyes from late night studying. However, the most important changes I have undergone were influenced by my teammates. My time on this team and my experience as a Harvard athlete are experiences I will take with me for the rest of my life.