Around The Yard: Kevin Dai

Returning to for a fourth season, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" explores life away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrativeFor a full list of blog entries, click here.

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Kevin Dai
October 18, 2017

USB serial port connection, FPGA communication, full-length driver word, bitwise manipulation algorithm. These were elements from a project I worked on this summer for a company attempting to artificially cure blindness. I worked closely with computer memory while keeping the hardware specs of the developing implant in mind and communicating with the medical lab in which my program would be eventually used. Okay, so you get it; I’m a nerd. But I’m also an athlete. Of course, you might not believe me if you saw me at work this summer.

I can’t say I fit the expected bill for a student-athlete. As 5’11”, I’m at an average height and weight. I’m not particularly muscular. I prefer sweaters and jeans rather team shirts and exercise shorts. I tend to shy away from physical pain, and I enjoy my personal quiet time. I am not particularly athletic, I trip over nothing at all, I don’t like large groups of people, I don’t have an insane party life. I don’t think most people would look at me and think “student-athlete”; and still, I would identify as one without hesitation.

Last summer, I interned for Second Sight Medical Products, a medical-tech company  dedicated to creating a surgical optical implant that cures blindness. Despite being a novice computer-science student with only CS50 and CS51 under his belt, I was given the heavy task of assisting with the development of this revolutionary chip. Through nine-hour workdays and, of course, the not-so-occasional overtime, I had to figure out how to navigate my first real-world job environment, alongside my colleagues, who were all Masters and PhD graduates in electrical or computer engineering.

Needless to say, I had little for leisure. I trained two hours before work every day. But nobody treated me like an athlete and, more importantly, I didn’t compose myself as one. In a microcosm focused exclusively on producing this product to cure blindness, it didn’t matter that I swam for two hours before work every day, nor did I expect to be treated better because of it. However, being an athlete prepared me for the real world more than anything else could have. I knew that I could grind through long days of debugging my code if I could get up every morning at 5am to stick my head underwater and exert myself for hours on end. I knew what being part of a team meant and was capable of effective communication and synergy with my coworkers. The drive that I have to work my hardest every day for a best time allowed me to keep in mind all the blind people that I would be helping while doing my best to be innovative and efficient in my project.

I may not look the most athletic out of my fellow student-athletes, I may not be the tallest or the broadest, but I am a student-athlete at heart. And this student-athlete-ness is inherent to my being, and being an athlete has informed and I’m sure will continue to inform everything that I do. After stripping away all the surface features, I am a competitive, goal-driven, flexible swimmer to the very core.