Written Senior Perspective - Ryan Friedman, Wrestling

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.

Ryan Friedman
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
Concentration: Integrative Biology 
House Affiliation: Mather

Like many other Harvard wrestlers, I was an honor roll student and a successful wrestler in high school with losses being a rarity. The athletic victories and academic accolades in high school instilled a sense in me that I would excel at everything I did. However, college proved much more challenging. I was no longer the best wrestler on the team – or even a starter and was struggling in the classroom. My teammates recognized this and did all they could do to help me. It was through these moments that I learned what it meant to be a Harvard wrestler. Upperclassmen spent hours leading me through problem sets and practice exams. They sat down and discussed every aspect of my daily schedule and areas which I could improve upon. Teammates shared their own experiences and invested more into me than anyone had before. Harvard wrestling taught me to focus on the process of improvement, instead of measuring myself by wins and losses. With this attitude, college wrestling became a rewarding experience.

In my freshman and sophomore years I focused on making those around me better. When guys had to miss a practice due to classes or needed to get extra workouts in, I became eager to help out. I prioritized my efforts on being 1% better every day and on not believing that my previous results were indicative of my future in the sport. With this attitude the wins eventually came as I became a starter in my junior and senior seasons. The same discipline I learned from wrestling I also applied in the classroom and my academic performance improved. Rather than gauging my performance by test results, I focused on understanding assignments and improving my study habits. Balancing academics and athletics is a never-ending battle but I recognized that if you falter in one, it’s inevitable that you will falter in the other. Our coaches taught us that every time you step into the wrestling room, your problem sets, essays or upcoming midterms need to be left behind. Those assignments will be not be worked on until I leave practice and its futile to stress about. I have two hours to become the best wrestler I can be. This compartmentalization changed my outlook towards academics. If I had a bad practice or did poorly in competition, there was nothing I can do about it when I’m sitting in class or in the library doing homework. As I became an upperclassman and my belief in myself improved, I became passionate about helping underclassmen going through similar situations. I became very involved in mentoring and advising students in both athletics and academics which became some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Harvard.

While the coaches of Harvard wrestling certainly taught me discipline, humility, and how to recover from poor performances, one area I’m particularly thankful for is their emphasis on building strong, meaningful relationships. Throughout college my relationship with my parents improved tremendously due to Coach Weiss’s teachings. I will be forever grateful for the resilience, persistence, and support this team and sport have provided to me. The bonds and friendships I’ve created with the three classes before me and three below will be one of the most valuable aspects of my life. Transitioning away from this team will be difficult but I know the lessons I’ve learned as a Harvard wrestler, will lead me through all areas of my life.