Falleció tu Papa Chak
Or something like that. I honestly don’t remember because the second I heard the words falleció (passed away) and Papa Chak (the nickname I had for my Grandpa since I was little), I essentially blacked out. I remember my dad telling me not to freak out, my mom crying, and an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.
That Monday before 2016 commencement, I was chilling in the room in Pfoho that was my temporary housing for Crimson commencement. We had finished the Year in Sports issue the day before, and I had spent most of the day relaxing and looking forward to saying goodbye to the Crimson seniors that night.
The second my dad called, though, it felt as if someone had ripped away a piece of my heart. There was no way to escape the pain.
For as long as I can remember, sports have provided a way to make friends and an escape valve. As a five-year old who had just immigrated from Mexico, knew no English, and had no friends, I made friends at the soccer field at my elementary school. On the field, I was just another kid.
It was the same whenever I moved to a new school. Even for games that I had no idea how to play, all it would take was a few minutes before I was holding my own, arguing every detail with new friends.
I learned from my dad to turn sports—both playing and watching them—into an escape. I go running or play soccer or pickup when I’m stressed out. I watch highlights when I get stuck doing homework, and to this day, I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to watch games.
So, naturally, I gravitated towards sports when I decided to comp The Crimson. It was freshman spring, and I felt that I had wasted my fall semester not comping anything useful.
Walking into 14p ended up being one of the best decisions in my years here. On a campus that more often left me feeling beat up and broken, Crimson Sports was an escape valve and a place where I felt that I truly belonged.
Covering events across the River allowed me to escape from troubles for a few hours and—silently, because good journalists are objective—grow close to three teams (track and field, women’s hockey, and men’s soccer) that I covered.
The more I involved myself in Crimson Sports, the more I found myself across the River, even for sports I didn’t cover. I screamed my throat dry at basketball, football, and hockey games.
But the best thing about joining Crimson Sports is the people. The 143 is one of the closest groups of friends I have at Harvard. The hours that I’ve spent watching games, doing work, and just hanging out rank as one of the best parts of college.
If there’s one group on campus where I always felt that I belonged, it was Sports. That group represents a space that catalyzed my growth as a person. A space where, even if things were going completely south, I could lose myself for a few hours and just focus on something that I love.
It’s weird thinking that Sports and 14p won’t be a regular part of my life next year. Luckily for me, the most important part of Sports isn’t something that I’ll lose once I leave campus.
The night of my grandpa’s death, I was over 2,000 miles away from my family and contemplating staying in for the rest of the night. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but I decided to go to the Crimson anyway. I told my co-chair about my grandpa’s death, and a couple of other people in Sports found out as well, all of them expressing their support.
I had planned to leave after an hour or so, thinking that I’d probably feel the urge to break down. But something convinced me to stay. It didn’t matter that few people knew what I was going through or that I was in a place where I couldn’t openly grieve.
That night made me realize that Crimson Sports was a second family to me. Being able to be with them and share a few laughs and drinks helped me through one of the hardest moments in my life. Sports reminded me that everything would be all right.
That night, years after finding my place on that kindergarten soccer field, I fully realized that I had found my place all over again, with a group of people I could count on to get me through hard times.
Like I said, I don't remember much from the night my grandpa died, nor do I think about it often. But as I think about it now, there's one thing I can be certain of: Wherever he was, watching over me, Papa Chak was happy that I had found my place at Harvard.
—Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.