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Rower Seeks Disciplined Life

By Jonathan Samuels

Nearly every day for four years, many of Radcliffe crew captain Mathilde Marvin Hajek's teammates endured lengthy, draining workouts "just for the racing."

But Hajek, known as "Tilde," says the thrill of winning races--or even participating in them--was almost anti-climactic. Instead, she found satisfaction in adhering to the disciplined routine demanded by crew.

"I've always compared myself to myself and not to other people," says Hajek, whose weekly workouts regularly exceeded 30 hours. "Training is such and end in itself because every day I would try to do a little bit better than the day before."

A member of the women's varsity heavyweight boat for the last three years, Hajek prides herself on her work ethic and dedication--and her first year roommate and sometimes crew companion says Hajek's act was sometimes a tough one to follow.

"She'll give everything of herself for a single goal, and pushes herself beyond," says Julie Damon '94. "Every time she gets on an erg [ometer], she ends up blacking out."

Hajek certainly delivered in her capacity as the women's captain, as she successfully led the team's turnaround from a dismal year in 1992-93.

The past few years have been difficult ones for many women athletes at Harvard, who have complained of unequal treatment. In the wake of such complaints, the Athletic Department announced a major initiative designed to expand and improve the women's athletic program at Harvard.

But Hajek says she was probably chosen as captain because she ignores the politics and concentrates on the sport itself. So when coaches decided to christen a varsity practice boat "Title IX" in honor of the federal law which mandates equal opportunity in athletics for men and women, Hajek took little part in the festivities.

"I didn't know if it was appropriate because our program is so well-funded and we don't have reason to gripe," Hajek says. "We're moving in the right direction... we can't change things overnight."

Team members praise Hajek's neutrality and her ability to lend support and motivation to everyone.

"At the Head of the Charles this year, she was there all day and spoke with every single Radcliffe crew, even the novices," says Laura Marx '94, hajek's coxswain. "She made the point that she was not the stroke of the varisity, but the captain of the whole team."

One of Hajek's teammates, Julie M. Copaken '94, says she and the other rowers could turn to the supportive captain as a friend in times of frustration or difficulties. Such personal qualities also made their way into the fabric of Eliot House for the last three years.

As early as her first days in the house, when she helped Eliot Co-Master Kristine L. Forsgard organize a sophomore outing, Hajek has "stood out," says Forsgard. "She's upbeat, and willing to listen to and help other people."

Despite its 9 a.m. meeting time, Hajek's first-year Russian class was her favorite at the time, she says. She enjoyed the language, and the Slavic Language and Literature department won her over.

In addition, she says she figured that as a future doctor, "the rest of my life is going to be in the sciences, so I wanted to study something I didn't have much of an opportunity to do outside of college."

Hajek took this interest outside of the classroom and the school year, venturing to Russia to study for eight weeks during the summer after her sophomore year.

While attending the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., from ninth through 12th grade as a boarder, Hajek excelled in field hockey--for which Harvard recruited her.

But after going through summer training, says Hajek, "I realized I was really ready for a change and wanted to start everything all over again with the beginning of college."

Hajek says the crew experience grew on her, and she realized quickly she wanted to commit to the team.

From what Hajek's close friends say, she has managed to shove aside her serious side at times and leave some room for fun, both away from the boathouse as well as with the crew team.

Hajek spiced up the team's daily routine on a number of occasions, including an effort in which she led a practice on ergs pulled out onto a frozen Charles River.

In addition, in February Hajek and the men's captain engineered an effort in which the two crews broke the world record for a 24-hour ergathon.

Those two events made the news-papers and the rowing magazines. But Hajek is more pleased by an antic which fortunately never attracted a newspaper photographer.

Wearing ski masks and nothing else, she and the rest of "Team Nature" conducted the "Assault on Newell" by rowing a boat from the men's boathouse to the women's--without wearing any cloths.

"We were in this contest with the men's team, and they had taken a photo shoot while naked, using there oar blades as cover," Hajek says. "We had to respond."

Venturing abroad again upon graduation, Hajek will work next year at a school in England's Dorset County as the recipient of the Bryanston Fellowship. Hajek will design and teach her own course on the history and literature of the American Frontier.

And, of course, she will coach the school's crew team.

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