Around The Yard: Stephen Jahelka

New to in 2014-15, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" will explore what life is like away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrative. For a full list of blog entries, click here.

For more student blogs from Harvard Amissions, click here.

Stephen Jahelka
April 17, 2015

Since November, it seems as if one of the most strenuous activities as a Harvard student involved neither academics nor athletics. Instead, the two had been replaced with the daily routine of checking the weather on your smart phone after waking up in the morning. The anxiety and tension normally felt on test and game days now seemed to arrive promptly every morning following the sound of my alarm. As I unlocked my iPhone, I would allow myself to hope for the off chance of a nice, warm day only to be confronted by the same reality that the Greater Boston Area felt for five months: snow. Snow followed by more snow followed by more snow. “I thought lacrosse was a spring sport!” commonly became the hospitable phrase I used around Kirkland and the athletic department before even saying hello. Then, all of a sudden in the midst of March, Christmas came again, as we had our first day above 50 degrees. After many months of snow days and Netflix marathons, I can happily report the weather has taken a turn for the better.

One of my favorite things to do on nice days is take a walk through Harvard Yard on my way to class. The trees are full with their leaves and everyone is out on the colorful chairs reading, relaxing and enjoying the nice weather. Each time I walk through the yard, I am reminded about how my time started here as a freshman; the friends I hadn’t met yet, the classes still to be taken, and the experience yet to be had. I remember on my first day of class, I walked out of class with one of my TFs. He thought it was a great thing that I was a student-athlete at Harvard because the life lessons I would learn in the classroom would carry over onto the lacrosse field and benefit my athletic career. While this has been true, when I walk through Harvard Yard each day, I am reminded that there is one lesson that has been instilled in me by my coaches and teammates on the other side of the river that has helped both my academic and athletic career here the most: the concept of family.

My family has always been and always will be the most important thing in my life. The constant and unwavering love they send every day to me from New York drives me to do my best in everything I do while I am four hours away from them. Coming into freshman year, I was nervous and questioned how, for eight months out of the year, I would ever be able to be away from the people who I loved the most. However, my fear and anxiety began to dissipate the second I stepped foot into the Harvard lacrosse locker room. In our first team meeting, Coach Wojcik said that this was the Harvard Lacrosse Family and that everything we did, win, lose, or tie, would be endured by everyone, together. I was comforted by the fact that I would have a family while away from my own, but I was unsure if I ever would be able to feel the same way about my ‘family’ in Boston as I did about my family back on Long Island.

Fast forward to this year and the lessons that Coach Wojcik spoke about on my first day in the locker room could not be more true to my life and to the 2015 Harvard men’s lacrosse team.  There is an incredible bond that forms with a group of individuals after you have put in countless hours of hard work together, each and every day. It is a bond that is hard to understand if you aren’t experiencing it for yourself, as I hadn’t yet on my first day of freshman year. The 6 AM fall work outs, the off field conditioning sessions with Coach Mullen, the agony of the run test, the thrill of beating No. 6 Cornell, the despair after losing close games, and so many others. All of these experiences wind together to create a unique sense of brotherhood, a sense of family, between you and your teammates who go through all those experiences with you. The happiest moments of my days are seeing my teammates in passing through the Yard, the occasional funny team email over our list or knowing some of them will be in my classes. The love we have for one another is what truly separates our team from any other team or group on campus. Almost opposite of what I was told freshman year, I firmly believe that it is the love and desire that I consistently give for my teammates has lead to my successes in the classroom and on the lacrosse field.

I am not sure when it happened throughout this year but, at some point along the way, the line separating the eight people in New York whom I love more than anything and the forty teammates I have up on campus vanished completely, as they became more than my family at school, but a group of guys I view as my literal family. Through the ups and downs of this year, through the adversity of a season ending injury, wins and losses, the one constant throughout this whole experience has been our family, something Coach Wojcik has told us since Day One of our time here.

Currently, our team is in Princeton, New Jersey set to take on the Tigers tonight under the lights on national television (ESPNU). It is essentially playoff time for our team, as we most likely need to win our next two games to make the Ivy League Tournament. However, even under the circumstances of ‘pressure’, I find myself smiling as I write this blog. Pressure, adversity, opportunity, whatever you want to call it, I wouldn’t pick anyone else but the group of guys in our locker room to go to battle with tonight as the game begins at 6 PM. No matter what their role, every member of our team will give their best effort for sixty minutes, not because of their desire to have the most goals or caused turnovers or ground balls, but because that is what you do when you love your teammates more than yourself – you don’t let a minute go by in your life where you don’t give your very best for them. That has been the greatest lesson instilled in me by the Harvard Lacrosse family and is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.