Story of Self
Before coming to Harvard, I was a competitive tennis player and competed in tournaments locally and nationally. My life consisted of going to school and then practicing tennis right after school for 5 hours on weekdays. On the weekends, I would travel around Northern California (where I am from) to play tournaments and when there were higher level tournaments, I would skip some days of schools to play national level tournaments across the country. I was very used to this rigorous schedule given that I had been doing this since I was 11 years old. Other than tennis and schoolwork, I didn’t worry about much. I was mainly focused on building my ranking in tennis and maintaining straight A’s in school. For me, school wasn’t that challenging and tennis is what I really had to push and dedicate myself to in order to be successful. My highest rankings in tennis were being ranked No.1 in Northern California for the Girls 12s, 14s, 16s, and 18s divisions. Nationally, my highest ranking was No.8 in the country my junior year of high school. Although I did really well, I knew that I wanted to go to college instead of turning professional because academics have always been a huge priority and I couldn’t imagine giving up that opportunity.
My junior year of high school is when I verbally committed to Harvard. In other words, I was recruited to play tennis at Harvard and essentially stopped looking at other colleges. I applied early to Harvard senior year as this was the process that Ivy Leagues follow for all their recruited athletes. During my recruiting trips, Harvard was my dream school and it truly surpassed all the other universities that I had visited. Harvard’s campus, people, and opportunities exceeded my expectations which is what ultimately led me to choose Harvard.
When I finally arrived at Harvard in August to begin upon this new chapter in my life, I didn’t know what to expect. Now looking back, I know that it was impossible to understand what my Harvard experience was going to be like as that is the true beauty of it -- you don’t know. I found myself scrambling to learn all the ins and outs of Harvard all at once. I had to navigate how to fit classes into my schedule since tennis practice was at a set time everyday. I remember waking up, going to get breakfast at Annenberg, running over to class and then as soon as the clock hit the hour, running to the next class. Three classes later, I had a pile of homework that needed to be done but I couldn’t get started on it because right after lunch, I had tennis practice for the next four hours. I would scooter over the bridge that overlooks the Charles River, and get ready for practice. In the locker room, I would change out of my school clothes and put on my tennis uniform and shoes. As a team we would get on the court and do our warm up together and start playing tennis. Most days we did drills on court, running from side to side, and then playing points against each other in the later half of practice. After playing tennis, we would have fitness workouts on court or in the gym. Right after fitness, we would stretch as a team, get ice from the training room to relax our muscles and scooter back to our dorms to shower and eventually eat. After dinner, it was usually 8pm and I found myself trying to do all the homework my professors had assigned. Compared to high school, college was different and it wasn’t until halfway through the semester I realized this. In order to succeed I had to approach both tennis and schoolwork in the way that colleges set out for it to be. I still had my high school mentality and until I changed that, I wouldn’t be able to move forward. Every day I was overwhelmed with how much I had to do and felt like I was falling behind in my schoolwork since I wasn’t able to spend as much time as I wanted on it. Also, since it was freshman year and I didn’t really know anyone, I wanted to spend enough time getting to know more people.
Freshman Fall at Harvard
During my struggles freshman fall, I felt very alone. I was new to the tennis team and hadn’t created strong friendships with those on the team like I have now. Looking around the team as a freshman, I thought everyone was doing really well in their classes and didn’t feel stressed out. Since I thought I was the only one, I believe this made it harder and more discouraging for me. Now, I realized that those who were struggling with the exact same things I was struggling with, kept it to themselves. The vast majority of the culture at Harvard is to do as much as humanly possible and to never succumb to the pressure of admitting you cannot do it. People don’t speak out because they fear being judged by others. Although understandable, it also created unrealistic expectations for student athletes and made it more difficult for those who were struggling. I still remember being very open about how I felt overwhelmed with all that I had to do freshman year and one of my teammates said she felt the exact same way but was too afraid to tell anyone. I believe that if more people can speak out and help those who are new to Harvard adjust in balancing both academics and athletics, this can greatly improve the well-being of student athletes.
Now in 2021
Fast forward to today, in my junior year of college as co-captain of the Harvard Women’s tennis team, I have really come a long way. There were moments my freshman year when I felt like tennis was just too much of a time commitment and hindered my ability to do well in school because of how limited my time was. I also saw how my friends were able to participate in so many activities whereas I was focused strictly on tennis. During those moments, I truly questioned if tennis was worth it given that I felt unsuccessful in other parts of my life. However, as time went on, I was so glad I didn’t because I realized that although that point in time was difficult, I would be able to get through it and grow as a person. I learned many valuable lessons about how to communicate, ask for help, manage my time, be genuine, and to not be too hard on myself.