Written Senior Perspectives: Max Yakubovich

Written Senior Perspectives: Max Yakubovich

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.

Max Yakubovich, Men's Swimming
Hometown: Beavertown, Ore.
Concentration: Applied Mathematics
House Affiliation: Cabot

Below is an excerpt from the extracurricular essay I wrote when applying to college:

The state title lies only a hundred yards away. Five others, teeth grit, squirm impatiently for their shot at glory, but my confidence has already determined the outcome of this race.  I tense into ready position with practiced movements, awaiting the starting buzzer. My mind tickles with subtle introspections. This is swimming: my sport, my fire. No matter how sore I am or how “bad” I feel, I’ve learned I can always come out on top.

The most important thing to note about this excerpt is how self-centered it was. It’s true that in an individual sport like swimming, having goals outside of your own is incredibly rare. At a meet, the only swims you have any control over are your own, and if a teammate falters, you have the added benefit of not needing to let that hurt your own ego. This sentiment was eliminated entirely from my mind after four years with Harvard men’s swimming & diving. 

When I walked on to this team four years ago, I imagined that it would simply be a continuation of my high school swimming career, with the exception that I would be training next to faster swimmers. But in my first year, I contracted mono and ended up spending no time at all in the pool, training. What grew out of this failed season was a bond with my Class of 2017 brothers, along with the rest of HMSD, that would never break, and a realization that swimming was a means to a greater end than I had previously imagined. 

The 60+ teammates I’ve had the pleasure of sharing Blodgett Pool with will always be more than training partners to me. Many of them taught me life lessons and helped me plan for my future, which I in turn passed on to my younger teammates. Others, I simply shared laughs with. Over time, HMSD has become my family. 

Competing for Harvard Athletics is hard. Unlike student-athletes at some abundantly funded state schools, we get no extra benefits or special treatment. We are expected to wake up before 6:00am, go to practice, attend our classes, go to practice again in the afternoon, and finish our work before going to bed and doing it all again the next day. I realized after my freshman year that there was no point in putting myself through that amount of effort if my only goal is to get better at moving back and forth across a pool. It’s about more than that. It’s about the shared experience of driving to get better at something, the traditions of our 87-year-old team, and the memories I made with my closest companions. 

In my four years on this team, I won three individual Ivy Championships, competed twice at NCAAs, and was a member of multiple team relay records, but my memory of these accolades will fade long before that of the time I spent with my teammates. The positive atmosphere and camaraderie of Harvard men’s swimming and diving was, in my opinion, the ultimate driver of my success in the pool. Whenever I speak with alumni who graduated many years ago, they all arrive at this same conclusion. The fact that Harvard was the only school I visited for which this attitude of unconditional love and respect permeated decades of teammates speaks to the genuinely penetrating and positive nature of the Harvard swimming & diving experience. When I entered this sport, I placed my own goals on a pedestal, but the group of men I was surrounded by inspired me to see things in a different light. This year, whenever I stepped up on the blocks for a race, I cherished looking over and seeing the smiling faces of my teammates willing me to win, knowing that every single one of them had my back.