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The most fascinating thing about Harvard is the people—so the cliché goes. But for sophomore Nigel Munoz, a rower on men’s heavyweight crew, this adage could not be more true, thanks to his spirit of adventure and his drive to test the limits of his athleticism.
As a teammate, Munoz commands enormous respect from his peers thanks to his track record—he already holds two of the Crimson’s erg records for 2000 and 5000 meters—and his ability to exude a quiet dedication to his passions.
“As you know, he’s a monster of a man,” sophomore Robbie Stone says. “He really generates a lot of power, unlike most people I’ve seen. He’s the most extraordinary person I know here at heart. He’s the complete package.”
During his senior year in high school, a yearning to see the world prompted Munoz, who usually occupies the four or the six seat in the boat, to delay Harvard and hop on the bike for a world biking tour that saw him cover five continents.
“I was sitting there one day getting my hair cut, and I thought that it would be pretty cool to cycle around the world,” Munoz says.
Seeing an opportunity to conquer a challenge and broaden his horizons, Munoz could not resist, and left his home in London in December 2007 for a nine-and-a-half-month trip that ended in New York.
“My goal was to complete the 16,000 miles required for around-the-world cycling and to go through five continents, which is also required, and basically, to have a pretty cool time,” he explains.
From the deserts of Peru to the peaks of Tibet, Munoz pedaled through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, as well as some of the planet’s most remote locations. Along the way, he accumulated memorable experiences like being incessantly stared at in Southern India or learning how to order Chinese food through sign language.
“I was with a friend and we cycled from Kathmandu up into the Himalyas, and it was just stunning,” Munoz says. “It was just the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.”
After a long journey that saw Munoz fight off a head injury in Nicaragua, squeeze between trucks in a Chinese tunnel, and hitchhike for food in the deserts of Latin America, the rower is satisfied that the ride allowed him such a diverse set of life experiences.
“One of the lasting impressions was that people in the world are much more friendly than you think,” Munoz says. “People in the developed world sometimes think that the people in lesser-developed world are out to cheat you. However, the most unfriendly people I found by a mile were people in Europe, Australia, and America.”
But as if traversing so many countries on the bike was not enough, Munoz became intrigued with the idea of completing an Ironman triathlon. Known for breaking many athletes, the triathlon starts with a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride before participants complete a full marathon.
“I remember being totally petrified,” Munoz admits. “And I remember running down the swim ramp and [my] eyes tearing up and wondering what I was doing. But as soon as I hit the water, there was a smile on my face.”
Munoz finished in a remarkable 11 hours and 22 minutes, far exceeding his personal expectations.
The marathon component certainly posed the biggest hurdle for Munoz, but the sophomore responded with his typical drive to excel. Thanks to a summer of daily training, Munoz was ready to compete in Louisville, Kentucky’s Ironman triathlon just a few weeks before the start of his sophomore fall.
“There’s no way to train for as near long a distance as the real race,” Munoz explains. “So you don’t know how your body is going to respond.”
As the marathon progressed, he was able to improve from an initial 9:00 pace—thanks to his strong cardiovascular fitness—to post a time that is quite impressive for a first-time competitor.
However, all of Munoz’s life experiences and accomplishments don’t come across in his everyday interactions. To Munoz, his gap-year travel and Ironman feat are indicative of the diversity of accomplishments among his teammates and friends.
“I think he looks at these [experiences] more from the perspective of personal dedication, and he doesn’t need the recognition from other people to motivate him,” Stone says.
Though Munoz does not yet know about his future plans, he still hopes to maintain his spirit for adventure and conquering new challenges after graduation.
“I’d probably like to do something a little more adventurous and a little more unconventional [after graduation],” Munoz says. “I don’t want to be like everyone else. If something inspires me, I’m going to do it.”
—Staff writer Robert T. Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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