Campus Life

A different kind of success

Stepping out of the classroom and onto the track

It was Friday night, and I was boarding the Saferide to go to BU. All my three roommates are athletes — a rower, a field hockey player, and a cross country runner — and that night, two of us were on our way to watch the runner race a 3k during her indoor track season.

Bailee would run 15 laps around the indoor track at BU. Because it was “banked” (the track was sloped inward), the NCAA would add additional seconds onto her final time. (The facts you know when you know too much about running.) The competition was going to be stiff, many schools in divisions above ours would be competing, and Bailee would be the only runner representing MIT in her heat.

It’s a sort-of joke that I’m an honorary member of the cross country team. Early on in the year, my inclusive roommates invited me along to spend time with their teammates. As the semester wore on and friendships consolidated, the freshman runners became my best friends, my people, my go-to group chat. By spending time with them, I’ve (somewhat unwillingly) learned about what it means to be an athlete, and through them, I’ve seen running in a way that I never had before.

This is how I ended up at a track meet on a Friday night. It’s a weird feeling, stepping onto a college campus that isn’t yours. Everything is at once familiar and unfamiliar. Modern buildings are filled with the same gaggles of students, except their faces are unrecognizable. The indoor track was packed with runners. They were strong and beautiful and intimidating. My roommate and I spotted the MIT team on the bleachers and waved shyly, unsure of where to go or how to act.

We slowly grew more comfortable. We picked winners in each heat and cheered them on as if we had come just for them, gloating when we chose correctly and groaning when our intuition led us astray. Not long after we arrived, Bailee took her place at the starting line, and we took our places at the edge of the track. With 100 percent confidence, we chose Bailee as our winner.

At my small, all-girls high school in London, being on a sports team meant practicing for an hour a week and losing a lot. In that environment with little spare time and energy, dedication to and investment in your sport would inevitably lead to disappointment. I saw this disappointment in my few teammates who actually cared about winning, and I had no desire to subject myself to such moral defeat.

In the U.S. and at MIT, this is far from true. I had thought that the high academic standard of my high school meant that there was no room for sports, but MIT undoubtedly debunks this theory.

This year, I’ve learned that Sundays are for long runs, and you “jog” in the pool if you’re injured. I’ve learned that if your calves are hurting, it might be because your quads aren’t strong enough. I’ve learned that the MIT cross country team is sedulous, committed, and talented.

Bailee ended up winning her heat. We cheered for her when she crossed the finish line and, still smiling, doubled over in pain. This was a different kind of success, one I hadn’t yet experienced at MIT. Unlike the calm satisfaction of acing an exam or finally debugging your code, this was energetic, exciting triumph.