Beginning in early January, the first students arrive back to campus, and they’re not always thesis writers
By ELIZABETH GUMMER
Many students filter in and out of campus during Wintersession in order to participate in a wide variety of programs hosted by the College. While most undergrads streamed back onto campus in the days leading up to the official start of spring semester, January 27th, these select students braved the Cambridge cold earlier than most. Among these groups are select student athletes, required by their teams to remain on campus to practice and compete outside of the academic term.
The majority of students never experience Cambridge in January, a period of time commonly referred to as J-term. Without the hustle and bustle of college students and thousands of tourists, Cambridge offers an alternative lifestyle during J-term that many students don’t experience.
The men’s wrestling team is among the few teams that return before the new year even begins. Back December 27th after a short, eight-day break, Pierce Bausano ‘22 reflected that, despite having less time home than others, he loves J-term. “It’s like summer camp—not warm, but you get it. You practice hard and have a lot of time to relax and be with your team, get a start on summer opportunities, and plan your courses.” Campus is quiet without students and tourists, and so the athletes feel as if they “have campus to [themselves].”
Bausano reasoned that practicing during J-term is ideal as teammates have “an easier time practicing and being in the moment with less on their plate” without classes and other commitments. Aside from daily morning and afternoon practices, the team eats meals and spontaneously ventures into Boston together, a luxury the rigid schedule of the academic year does not always afford. Bausano notes his favourite parts of J-term are team movie nights and no lines at the dining hall.
For Aislinn Devlin ‘21, a long-distance runner on the track and field team, J-term is, overall, “a good vibe.” The team can enjoy approximately three weeks away from campus, returning any time between January 5th and January 11th. Devlin explained that many teammates “liked having that flux period,” as “first years and international students could have a little more time at home before coming back.” Everyone was required to be back by January 11th in order to attend the team banquet, held at the Harvard Club of Boston.
Practices for the track team vary across different event groups, each group utilizing the indoor track at different times of the day. Devlin’s group, the distance runners, “practiced at 10 am pretty much each day throughout J-term.” Although practices are frequent, they are much more relaxed without the demands of academics. After practice ends, the team heads to lunch. Devlin recalled spending “a good amount of time at lunch just socializing” before trying to “get some summer research done in the afternoons.” Though Devlin likes J-term overall, as it is an opportunity to “ease back into campus life without a ton of people around and low stress” along teammates and less intense practices, the runner acknowledges that J-term is “always a bit daunting… knowing that school will be starting.”
Alongside Devlin was Lorenzo Daniel ‘21, another member of the track and field time. Daniel is a part of the sprints, hurdles, and jumps side of the team. While the long-distance runners got started at practice early in the day, Daniel reported that his group tended to practice in the early afternoon, heading “to the track around 1:30 pm and returning at about 5:30 pm following practice.” Weekends consist of competing and cheering on teammates. Coming into championship season, Daniel is optimistic about future competition, noting that “this is the best the team has looked since [he has] been here” and that “this is the closest [he has] felt to the team.”
Both a dedicated athlete and student, Daniel not only takes time outside of his packed training schedule to bond with his team, but utilizes the low stress period to “spend time working on applications to different programs [he is] interested in or just doing work on other projects.” When Daniel isn’t busy at work, to bond his team “eats meals together (both in and outside of the hall), have game nights, have movie nights, and have a Welcoming Event to help bring the team closer as a group.” Smaller groups break out to “go downtown to shop or just watch whatever NBA game is on that night.” Daniel appreciated the freedom that comes with J-term, as well as the “variability… spending time with friends and teammates whereas during the year [he] doesn’t have that level of accessibility.”
In the experience of Maya Simkowitz ‘22, being back early for J-term didn’t necessarily mean spending endless time at Harvard despite a shortened winter break. This differs from other sports that spend the majority of their time back training on Harvard campus, leaving only to compete elsewhere. Simkowitz is a member of the Harvard Ski Team. As such, Simkowitz reflected on her sports uniqueness such that “campus is pretty inconvenient for training” since some of their training locations are approximately two hours away. Though they “reported back to campus on December 31st, [the team] left the morning of January 1st and spent a couple days skiing up north,” returning to campus for a few days off. “The majority of January was spent on what [the team] calls “Jan Camp” where [they] leave campus for about two weeks to train (in New Hampshire and Vermont) and don’t return to campus until after [their] first competition.”
During the semester, fitting practices in with classes requires leaving campus as early as 5:45 am some days in order to return in time for noon classes. Thus, J-term is a time where the skiers can focus solely on their sport and their team, from weekly team dinners to required workouts and lifts. Simkowitz appreciated J-term as a time where she is able to “hang with the teammate without the stress and pressure of classes and the lack of distractions in general… we don’t have to worry about academics as we begin the college circuit but can rather just focus on our bodies, performance, and equipment.”
Simkowitz also is grateful for J-term building team cohesion, as they “spend so much time together… bonding seamlessly occurs.” On the long commutes in the team van, teammates spend their time “just bantering, listening to music, and playing games.” For one teammate’s birthday, Simkowitz recalled that they “went and sang karaoke as a team.”
Alyssa Panton ‘21 of the Crimson Dance Team described campus as a completely different experience compared to the academic term. Panton and her team “only have one focus in mind: the road to UDA Nationals.” The team returned to campus on January 9th in order to attend their annual national boot camp. Practicing for nine hours a day, split between two four and a half hour practices, the team puts their shortened break to good use. Practices in preparation for their team’s championship typically include many repetitions of their routine, running through again and again to perfect the choreography. In an attempt to perfect their routine, CDT invites alumni, former coaches, and the original choreographers to observe their routine and offer their advice.
Outside of show time commitments, the team continues to spend time together over dinners, where, as Panton recalled, they “bond, debrief about our progress from the day’s work, and ice our muscles together.” CDT also has a tradition called Ray of Sunshine, where every team member gets assigned another team member to be their Ray of Sunshine. Panton describes the importance of this tradition in keeping spirits high during boot camp and the trip to UDA Nationals. Rays of Sunshine keep each other’s morale up by, as Panton describes, “get[ting] one another coffee in the morning, text[ing] each other funny memes, or buy[ing] each other their favorite snacks to brighten one another’s day.”
Annika Bassey ‘22, a member of the women’s tennis team, similarly enjoys the ability to focus on team practice and bonding without the distraction of classes or other commitments. Back on campus by January 12th, the tennis team had a few weeks to dial into their athletics. Between practice, treatment, and more practice, the team had commitments on and off the court from 9 am until 4 pm most days. Despite busy schedules Bassey noted the team typically “still all hangout” even having the evenings off.
While campus during J-term may not have the buzz that it has during the semester, it offers athletes an opportunity to devote the hours necessary to help their team succeed. Though the Cambridge winter does have its downsides, Harvard student athletes seem to be making the best of it!
Elizabeth Gummer ‘21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes sports for the Indy