Written Senior Perspective - Mikaela Thompson, Women's Swimming and Diving

Photo by Gil Talbot
Photo by Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th 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.

Mikaela Thompson
Hometown: Weston, Mass.
Concentration: Psychology: Cognitive Neuro and Evolution
House Affiliation: Dunster

If you had tried to tell high school freshman me that just a few years down the road I’d be competing as a recruited diver for a DI program, I would have been shocked. Had you mentioned that this DI program just happened to be Harvard, I would have laughed at you in disbelief. But somehow, I’ve now found myself here, at the end of my four-year collegiate career as a diver, knowing that I wouldn’t change any part of where this journey has led me.

I arrived on campus freshman year excited about what lay ahead of me, but nervous about the commitment I had made. I was still relatively new to the sport and was worried that my passion for diving wouldn’t be enough get me through 20+ hours a week of diving and 5:40 am wake ups for the next four years. But that’s where the team came in. From my first visit, I could tell that the Harvard women’s swimming and diving team was special, and knew that if anything could keep me motivated it was knowing that my teammates were there next to me, supporting me and also counting on me. On those days when academic stress made me unenthusiastic about going to practice and on those cold, dark winter mornings when I would have liked to have stayed in bed, it was knowing that I was doing it for my teammates that got me to the pool every day, ready to give each practice everything I had. Diving is a pretty crazy sport. We get up on the board, launch ourselves into the air, and hope for the best. I’ve stood on that diving board so many times, trying to block out the fear of hitting the board or of getting lost in the middle of a flip or twist and smacking on the water. But having teammates right there beside you, working through their challenges and cheering you on as you face your own is what gets you back up on the board competing a dive that you concussed yourself on just a few weeks before.

Being a Harvard diver and a Harvard student-athlete has taught me more than I ever could have imagined. Through three team Ivy League titles and two individual Ivy League championship titles I have learned what it means to compete not for yourself, but for your teammates. I’ve seen my teammates get just as, if not more, excited than me about my victory, because it was just as much theirs as it was mine. I’ve experienced the joy of achieving both team and individual goals, and have felt the disappointment of falling short of my own expectations. I’m not going to lie, some of those failures still sting, but they are neither the defining moments of my career or of my time on this team. The things I’ll remember most are not the losses to Yale or Princeton, or even the Ivy Championship victories. Team breakfasts after morning practice, the tears I’ve shed from laughing so hard at something a friend said, our assistant coach’s pre-meet raps, 5:30am Summer Dawgs, and so many other memories like these will be what stay with me. Not to mention the life-long friendships I’ve formed, often stemming from the shared experience of being a Harvard student-athlete.

As I enter this next phase of my life and move away from the place and the people I’ve called home for four years, I find myself reflecting on how grateful I am to have gotten to be a part of this group of strong, fiercely independent, resilient, supportive, dedicated, and motivated female athletes, who aren’t afraid to unapologetically be themselves. I am incredibly thankful that my coaches decided to take a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to be a Harvard student-athlete. In my time here, I hope I was able to give even half as much to the athletic community and to my teammates as they gave to me.