Game Day was sacred to Peyton. During our junior season, we played Yale on her birthday, and whenever she was asked about her birthday plans that day, she replied, “It’s not my birthday until after we beat Yale.” This simple statement reflected Peyton’s utter devotion to Harvard women’s soccer. She lived for game day, competition, and getting better.
Peyton’s tangible contributions to helping our team win games can be looked up in statistical archives and box scores, but what I think is even more worth mentioning are the intangibles that have made her a great leader in our program and in athletics in general at Harvard.
The amount of emotional and psychological energy that she put into every practice and game rivaled her physicality, and the way in which she channeled all of herself and immersed herself in every competitive setting gave Peyton the ability to tap into and access an extra gear that is rare in athletics.
Oftentimes, athletes—even if they are not consciously aware—compete like they are saving themselves for something, although coaches constantly demand that we “leave it all out on the field.”
It’s difficult. It requires crossing emotional and psychological barriers to relinquish oneself completely to competition and stepping up in pressure situations.
Peyton is different in that she made herself vulnerable to these situations, acting with a coveted combination of intelligence and emotion, and showed the rest of our team that it was okay to be invested, okay to want to win, and okay to never be satisfied and always be striving for improvement.
The sign of a great leader is having the capacity to not only make yourself better, but also to make others around you better, and the way in which Peyton demonstrated a complete commitment to competition did just that. Every day, she gave all of us the courage to dig that competitive energy out from inside ourselves and work for the teammate next to us.
Her desire for competition and readiness to meet challenges head on are the envy of athletes everywhere trying to reach the next level and significantly contributed to the hunger and resilience that has come to be a defining characteristic of our program over the past few years.
During these four years, and especially during the two when Peyton served as captain, one of the things that I came to admire most about her was her ability to command the respect of players and coaches alike. She always held herself accountable for her actions both on and off the field, and demanded that everyone else do the same. When she spoke, everyone listened. Her confidence in herself and in the abilities of our team gave life to all of us, and she maintained that a belief in both our collective mission and our potential to compete was the necessary first step toward winning.
Peyton set the tone for our team and got everyone on board with this vision. With an emphasis on accountability and belief, she inspired our team to make things happen, not let things happen, and this take-initiative demeanor is the reason why we were able to win the Ivy League twice during our four years here.
Being demanding of one’s teammates is not always an easy task, but her ability to do this with maturity and respect was key to her success as a leader as well as to the success of our team. She empowered all of us to do the same, and this aspect of our team culture will be a prominent part of her lasting legacy on the women’s soccer team.
It is an honor to be able to speak about one of my closest friends in this way, and I feel so grateful for the memories and growth that we have shared over the past four years. She is so deserving of such recognition for all of her achievements and the impact that she has had on our program.
As our college careers come to an end, I know that the road ahead of her is full of even more possibilities and opportunities that she will undoubtedly take advantage of. I cannot wait to see what she achieves in this next phase of her life beyond the soccer field, and could not be prouder of all that she has already achieved here. Congrats, Peyt! Dream team forever.
Senior Kristina Garrido has played midfielder with Peyton Johnson on the women’s soccer team for four years.