PARTING SHOT: Writer Inspired by Unlikely Moments

You would think that after nearly 250 Crimson articles over the last four years, banging out one last column would be a breeze. But when I sat down at my computer, I found myself, for nearly the first time, at a loss for words.

The task of distilling my relationship with sports, with The Crimson, and with Harvard seemed something too big to take on in a 900-word column. There were too many moments, too many friendships, and too many lessons. Sports has defined my relationship with The Crimson, which in turn has defined my four years at Harvard, and figuring out a way to put that down on paper seemed impossible.

I tried for days to think of a way to make my experiences sound profound, to no avail. Because what I finally came to realize is that my four years with the sports board have been, in many ways, just like sports itself—ordinary routines peppered with some extraordinary moments.

I came to Harvard not knowing what to expect, but becoming sports chair of The Crimson certainly wasn’t it. I never imagined that I would spend my Saturdays driving around the Northeast following a football team and my Sundays cooped up in a tiny office mulling over the finer points of grammar and hoping the computer wouldn’t crash. My parents, at least, certainly imagined me doing more schoolwork. But the stories—and the people who taught me how to write them—kept me coming back for more.

Like the story of the football walk-on who became a Rhodes Scholar, or the softball pitcher who hung up her glove and became a coach, or the hockey coach who quietly rose to the top of her profession. In 12 seasons of writing, I saw thrilling comebacks, championship runs, and extraordinary individual performances.

But in sports, not every game can be a thriller. Not every player can be the best. It’s easy to write about the games that everybody was at anyways, or the games won on a last-second shot. Far harder is the task sportswriters face on a near-daily basis: how to make the ordinary seem anything but.

It’s that task that made me fall in love with sports even more.

The place that I will always associate with college sports is my seat in the middle of the Bright Hockey Center press box, a place where I watched dozens of women’s hockey games from over the last four years. I picked up the beat during the fairytale 2007-2008 season, when the team exceeded all expectations to go 32-2 and hold the No. 1 ranking in the country for much of the year. In fact, I was on the beat for over a year before I ever had to write about a loss.

The next three seasons were successful by many standards but didn’t come close to matching the top-four national finish of the 2008 squad. The team never made it back to the Frozen Four; in fact, it was shut out of the NCAA field in two out of those three years. But as I learned more and more about the team and began to finally be able to draw parallels across years with confidence, I fell more in love with hockey, with writing, with sports.

I grew to love the challenge of finding meaning in a badly-played loss, of finding the right words to describe a dazzling goal in the midst of an otherwise average game. I wound up being more familiar with ECAC women’s hockey than with most of my academic classes and was more comfortable in interviews than talking in section.

It helped, of course, that I found myself surrounded by people who were just as willing to geek out about these things as I was. While writing was something I did for me, I never could have spent two years on the masthead without loving the people I was doing it with. It’s no coincidence that many of my fondest memories at Harvard are shared with my fellow writers, some of whom have become my closest friends.

My time at Harvard has made me into a very different person from the 18-year-old girl who first wandered into The Crimson four years ago looking for somewhere to belong. I have learned to write and lead with confidence because of the lessons I learned at 14 Plympton, as I tried, failed, and learned from my mistakes over and over again. I became a better sports fan as I learned to appreciate the little things each game—win or loss, thriller or blowout—had to offer.

As I move away from Massachusetts for the first time, I know that my time at Harvard has prepared me for the so-called real world in so many ways. Because I have learned how to fail and how to persevere, I know that I will be prepared to stand up in front of a classroom next year. Because I have experienced the ways that sports can bring a community together, I am confident that learning to love Drew Brees and Chris Paul will help me integrate into my new home of New Orleans.

But most importantly, I have learned how to appreciate the meaningful in the ordinary—the two-hour dinners in the dining hall with friends, the moment when the solution to a physics problem finally becomes clear, the pride you feel when you see your words splashed across the front page of the newspaper. And I can think of no better lesson that college and sports could have taught me.

—Staff writer Kate Leist can be reached at kleist@fas.harvard.edu.

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