The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Madeleine Ankhelyi, Women's Cross Country/Track & Field
Hometown: Folsom, Calif.
Concentration: Integrative Biology
House Affiliation: Dunster
Being a member of the cross country and track and field teams for four years at Harvard has been easily the most difficult, rewarding, and humbling experience that I have had in my life thus far. This program has taught me countless lessons, given me many meaningful relationships, and pushed me to strive for excellence in all aspects of my life-- all in ways that I truly believe I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
I have not been a “successful” collegiate runner. I was never a top scoring member of the cross country team, or an athlete on the track whose times would easily gain entry into competitive meets. I’ve become the poster child for a recruited athlete who ran well in high school but didn’t nearly live up to her “potential” in college. Due to a number of injuries, my training was frequently inconsistent, and my seasons often shortened or non-existent. Anyone who has ever been passionate about anything in life will recognize the feeling of disappointment when you don’t meet your own expectations for yourself. It is a humbling experience. It’s very easy to become discouraged when you encounter a disconnect between what you hope to be achieving, and what your reality is. What I discovered is that these struggles of facing feelings of disappointment and disconnect were the most rewarding parts of my experience as a student athlete. For every moment that I spent struggling to get through a short run because something hurt, I spent another praising the Lord when I was able to run again for the first time in weeks. For every moment that I was unsure about my value to the team, I spent many more laughing with my teammates and enjoying the process of tackling our struggles together. For every moment that I spent frustrated with my own performances, I spent many others overjoyed to cheer a teammate on to a new personal best. When I look back on my four years, I see all of these moments, and I find them all beautiful and valuable. Together they all constitute the process that it took to be a student-athlete.
The competition perhaps most exemplary of this process for me was the Cross Country Ivy League Heptagonal Championships in 2016, my senior fall. Due to a nagging injury throughout the bulk of the season, I was in no shape to compete well, but gladly took the opportunity to race for my team. Had I been racing alone that day, I likely wouldn’t have even lined up. In the brief moment that we spent poised and still on that line, I remember feeling an unbelievable sense of pride and euphoria to just be racing next to my teammates and to be a part of this sport. As I was finishing, my coach yelled to me “Your team won! Your team won!” And we had. We had won Heps for the first time in 38 years for Harvard. As hard as it was to struggle through that race to a nearly last place individual finish, it was even that much more rewarding to get to celebrate with my teammates over our win. There was such immense joy and beauty in that struggle.
The road through my experience as a student-athlete at Harvard has not been a smooth one, but I could not be more thankful for the opportunity and perspective on life that it has given me. I’ve been lucky enough to have coaches who have supported, encouraged, and challenged me all four years, and teammates who have become like family. I’m leaving Harvard with a newfound appreciation for both the trials and tribulations that both running and life will bring, and a readiness to continue to learn and enjoy that process throughout the rest of my life.