Returning to GoCrimson.com for a second season, "Around The Yard: Life As A Harvard Student-Athlete" explores life away from the playing fields for select Harvard student-athletes through their own first-person narrative. For a full list of blog entries, click here.
The Men’s hockey locker room is much more than a place where our team prepares for practices and games - it’s our sanctuary. It’s where teammates morph into brothers and where stories morph into legends. It’s a place that never truly leaves us, even when most of us are miles away over the summer. Even now, sitting at my desk in Winthrop House, I’m able to imagine every inch of it.
Inside wafts the familiar smell of equipment. Rolls of tape screech across blades and shin pads. Velcro clings and rips as teammates search for the sweet spot on their pads. The NHL Network hums constantly in the background, game highlights flickering on the screens in the periphery. Two stalls down, an age old dispute rages over whether or not a goalie should’ve made a particular save. “How DIDN’T he have that!” This rattles Trabes, our own goalie, who chirps back, “You think you could EVER get across the crease that fast?”
Stretching, rolling out, watching film, rehabbing injuries, hanging out, joking, arguing, celebrating; the daily routines reinforce an association. This is home. At a glance, it’s orderly and uniform – team rules. But, venturing inside of some of the stalls, you get a more profound sense of the athlete’s universal home away from home. Protein powder, toothbrushes, deodorant sticks, footballs, tennis rackets, phone chargers, pictures, books, letters, dress shirts, street clothes, and sneakers all clutter the recesses deep inside.
Cutting away from the hustle and bustle of daily student life, you come to find there’s nothing more settling than the vibe in that locker room. Those four walls are a Fortress of Solitude for the 29 members of the Harvard hockey roster; and for many, they act much like a bunker, providing space to briefly retreat from the busy life of a Harvard student-athlete.
Thinking about what I would write about for my version of “Around the Yard,” I thought I might talk about the interesting classes I’m taking – like the one that follows the current presidential election, or perhaps the one that analyzes the historic roots and causes of human trafficking. I thought I might talk about the wealth of extra curricular resources and clubs that Harvard has to offer. But finally I decided that I’d write about what has touched me most outside of hockey this year, something that was actually born as an idea when talking amongst teammates in – you guessed it – the locker room.
Early in September, we met with Adam La Reau, a former Navy SEAL, who started serving as our team mentor a few years ago while attending Harvard Business School. We discussed our collective goals for the upcoming season, both on and off the ice. We decided that as an off-ice goal, we would make a considerable effort to engage in community service as a team.
We started by volunteering at the Cristo Rey High School - doing yard work, painting, and providing general maintenance around their building. We also participated as a team in the Terry Fox Run and volunteered at the homeless shelter in Harvard Square. Partaking in these events allowed me to better grasp just how fortunate we all are to be apart of this incredible university and to be surrounded by the amazing people that call this place home.
Despite these humbling experiences, the most impactful community service effort occurred last month. On Sunday, January 23rd, after a weekend spent in the far away lands of Hamilton and Ithaca, New York, facing off against Colgate and then Cornell, we were able to turn our locker room sanctuary into something far more special than it usually is. In conjunction with One Summit, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to help children battling cancer build resilience through experiential learning and mentorship with a NAVY Seal,” the Harvard Hockey team welcomed some brave and inspirational children into our second home.
While the children usually spend the day building confidence by overcoming the challenge of rock climbing, our version of One Summit was geared to have them tackle an objective completely foreign to most of them – learning how to skate. Each of us suited one or two of the kids up, laced their skates, and got them zipping around the ice. It only took minutes to recognize these were some of the most confident, most talented, and most courageous children we would ever meet – and that we would be the ones learning a lesson from the day.
That day I had the pleasure of skating with most of the kids, but spent the majority of my time with a little guy named Jaxson, an amazing middle-schooler from New Hampshire who was wise well beyond his years. To my surprise, I had one of the best conversations I’ve had with anyone in the past several months. We discussed all facets of our lives – favorite sports, pet lizards, friendship, what it’s like to share a room with a brother, favorite books and movies, and our long term goals. I even got a little refresher on some seventh grade science.
I learned some valuable lessons from Jaxson and the others that day, applicable anywhere in life, school, or hockey. These kids reinforced just how important it is, in life and sports, to be resilient. The positivity that radiated from each of them, despite the challenges they face, showed me that there are very few circumstances that I can truly justify being negative – no matter how crushing an injury or overtime loss may seem. In retrospect, engaging with these kids taught me more directly about life in one afternoon than any lecture could ever hope to.
Due to experiences like our day with One Summit, the community service initiative that our team embarked on has been one of the most rewarding experiences of this school year. Realizing that we can extend our roof to others in the community – complete with all the reassurance, the comfort, and the electricity – even if only for an afternoon – was a discovery that drew a line across my experience as a Harvard student-athlete.
Although each member of our team is involved in an array of different activities and finds himself, in one way or another, engulfed in the student life so unique to this college – in true, team-sport fashion, the collective effort of our team to engage in community service has had a far bigger impact than we would have been able to make on an individual basis. And while the success of a team will always be measured by wins, losses, and playoff performances (and trust me, we’re veryconcerned about these things – we’re playing to clinch an Ivy League Championship at home this Friday!), a team’s character can always be measured by the impact they have on the community they’re apart of.