If you were to stop at the corner of Linden and Mt. Auburn to peer into the first-floor window of Claverly Hall--straight to the heart of resident Stephanie M. Mayer '97-'99--the mantle of field hockey photos, a crew erg exercise machine parked in a corner and umbro shorts slung lazily across Mayer's open futon would clue you in right away.
Mayer is a jock for life, but unlike most campus athletes with a cache of high school honors and training camp credentials who were recruited by the College, she is unable to play a varsity sport--although she would give anything to take the field.
After slide tackling a ball during a field hockey game at Harvard, Mayer experienced a mild form of amnesia that knocked out segments of her short term memory, leading her to take two years off and forever barring her from the realm of campus contact sports.
To any athlete, a suspension from their sport of choice can seem like a death sentence and for Mayer, injury meant a reevaluation of her life.
"It still feels so unfinished," Mayer says, "I guess it's like they say--if you never do what you wanted to do, you never get to know how good you might have been."
And Mayer had promise.
The first student from Rhinebeck High School--a rural outpost in upstate New York with a graduating class of 64--to attend Harvard, Mayer harbors worries even now that it was her athletic record that skyrocketed her off the waiting list and into Mathews Hall in 1995.
"A huge part of my coming to Harvard was that I wanted to play with this specific team," she says, recalling the game tapes and recruit calls that flowed in and out of the Mayer household during her junior year.
Daughter of the high school physics teacher and a self-identified faculty brat, ("In other words, no dates," she says) Mayer turned an invitation by one of her four older siblings to try field hockey into a five-year stint playing goalie for the high school team.
"I'd never even seen field hockey before. I didn't know if you shot it through a hoop or kicked it like a football," Mayer says of her first time playing goalie at age 14, a time when the now 6-foot 1-inch ponytailed defensive player saw herself as "awkward" and "just really lumbersome and slothlike."
In the goal, clad in armor that included hip pads, shin guards, kickers--field hockey goalie boots--and a pelvic guard, (for crotch shots teammates nicknamed "flying birth control") Mayer became a defensive machine as passionate about the sport as she was skilled at perfecting it. Although she played basketball and track in the off-season, Mayer's sights increasingly concentrated on field hockey.
"I competed against myself," she says. "It was definitely the sport I was most driven to play. I'd wake up in the morning and get to school early so I could go in and play, then bring the equipment home or have people take shots on me after [practice]."
Grabbing a wooden framed picture from the mantle, Mayer indicates a helmeted figure in jersey number 24 (that was the biggest jersey they had) surrounded by smiling teammates in pleated hockey skirts.
"That was the day we beat [rival] Pine Plains," she recalled, pulling out another picture, similarly posed with her own face at the center of a crowd of Harvard jersies. Her smile slowly fades.
"I can't remember who we played that day," Mayer says. "My number was 00. Double nothing."