The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th 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.
Nikki Friesen, Women's Ice Hockey
Hometown: Corvallis, Ore.
House Affiliation: Quincy
Since my junior year of high school, I have kept a paper fortune in the back of my phone case. It reads: “Success will be yours.” This little fortune is tattered and dirty, from Panda Express of all places, and relatively simple; yet, for me, it holds profound meaning. Junior year of high school is prime recruiting season for aspiring college ice hockey players. I was pushing myself to get perfect grades, send email after email to coaches, and post the stats during games that would catch the eye of a DI coach. Not many coaches were noticing me, however, and I was stressed on multiple levels. My parents had relocated with me from Oregon to Colorado so that I could gain exposure and I felt I owed it to them to go DI. I’m what I have self-dubbed a “bubble kid.” The kind of kid that would likely excel at the DIII level, but could also go DI and probably struggle a bit. I knew this and I knew going DI would be incredibly difficult. I was asked by a teammate at one point if I would rather be recruited as a top six forward for a DIII team or as a 3rd-4th liner for a DI team. I replied, “I’d rather go DI and fight for it.” For me, that fortune represented both drive and hope. I had my sights set on DI and I was going to make it a reality.
As it happened, I ended up here, at Harvard, playing hockey for one of the best teams in the country. Coming in freshman year, I tried not to have outlandish expectations. I knew we had some Olympians returning to the lineup and a team that could legitimately contend for a National Championship. Nevertheless, I still didn’t expect to spend two-thirds of the season watching my team from the stands as a healthy scratch. The transition from being a go-to player to essentially a cheerleader with team attire hit me hard. Hockey had comprised a large part of my identity my entire life. Goals, assists, and face-off wins encompassed my definition of success for 12 years; without consistent playing time and the ability to contribute to my team on the ice, I felt lost and confused. Who was I without hockey?
I remember talking to one of my captains about how I felt and admitting to her that I was miserable; I didn’t feel like I was a part of the team. She reassured me my time on the ice would come, and until it did, there were plenty of ways I could still contribute to team success. She suggested bringing energy and positivity in the locker room between periods, or even taking stats. I took her advice to heart and decided the least I could do as a glorified cheerleader is be the best damn cheerleader possible. Along with taking face off stats, another teammate and I began standing on either side of the locker room door giving our teammates fist bumps before every time they headed onto the ice. It was easier some days more so than others, but as I set aside my own feelings about playing time, I began to feel more and more like there was still a place for me on Harvard Hockey.
Throughout all of this, a little soul searching led me to realize that I could not rely solely on my identity as a hockey player. I needed activities and interests outside of athletics; I needed to expand my definition of myself. Freshman spring I pursued multiple Harvard extracurriculars. I got a job at the MAC as well as the opportunity to become a PAF sophomore year. A rather random assortment of jobs, committees, opportunities, and responsibilities outside of hockey would arise during my next three years here; all of them have given me insight into the intricacies, quirks, and distinctiveness that is life at Harvard College. I learned that success could be redefined. In fact, it had to be. I now equivocate success with happiness. Conversely, in surrounding myself with people and activities that bring me happiness, I have achieved more conventionally defined success in hockey where at first my prospects look somewhat dismal. The journey wasn’t easy, nor was it straightforward, but it was certainly worth it. From the middle of freshman year on, I stood on the left side of the locker room door, fist bumping my teammates before they stepped on the ice. Each and every time I stood in a jersey, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratefulness for the privilege and opportunity I had as a Harvard athlete as well as for all those who pushed and supported me along the way. Success is not static, but it is mine.