Walking Onto the Sailing Team

Category Student Voices


Emily Class of '24
Authored on April 30, 2021


Ever since first grade, I had been on a team. I played soccer on my older sister’s team through elementary school, ran track through middle school, and then track consumed my life throughout high school. I loved it: the bonding during twelve-hour weekend meets, the stressful warm-ups, the laughs when I would mess up a hurdle, and the kind support before every 4x400m relay.

I always knew that an important part of my identity was being a being a student athlete, but I knew going into college that I did not want to continue running track. The idea of running another 400m, whether in the open, the hurdles, or in a relay was something that I kindly kissed goodbye during my senior year. Having already gotten a school record, it felt like time to close that chapter. Getting to college, I thought that I would be content not worrying about practice and enjoying the extra free time to focus on academics that I was never able to have during high school between track, work, and night classes.

Getting to Harvard, I found that I felt extremely displaced without belonging to a team. It was weird not being a student athlete, but I figured that I was not good enough to play at a collegiate level, especially on a sport that was not track. But, in my dorm's hallway, there were a few members of the sailing team who mentioned that they were accepting walk-ons, even those who had not sailed previously. To me, this seemed like a golden opportunity to join a sport and to learn something entirely new. I grew up in northern Minnesota, where sailing is more of something that we see in beach photos and on some of our larger lakes, but never was it something that felt accessible.

I started lifting with the team this spring semester, and it has now become a large part of the stories that I will tell about my first year at Harvard. Especially without the upper-level students on campus during the fall semester, it was hard to know anyone outside of my class. In addition, none of us first-years ever really felt like first-years since we were the majority of students living on campus at the time.

While meeting and becoming part of the team, I was able to really have my eyes opened not only to how much I did not know about Harvard, but also realized how much of a unique culture the first-years were able to create last semester. It really made me treasure the memories I made last semester and also made me more excited than ever about the next three years of my life here at the College.

My first time sailing was a little daunting. I got to the boat house and learned how to put on a dry suit, how to rig a boat, and was met with a flurry of boating terms that I had never heard before. Five of my friends came to watch me as I then embarked on a solo journey across the Charles River, tacked for the first time (essentially flipping the side the sail is on as I turn around) and headed back. Normally, walk-ons without experience learn to crew (control the jib or the front sail, but do not have to steer) but due to COVID restrictions, I was able to learn how to skipper (steer and control the sheet, or rope attached to the sail) for myself. It was frightening, but exhilarating. I also capsized for the first time that day, which also allowed me to experience the worst that could happen and let go of my fear.

Since then, I sailed a few more times solo and have now begun learning how to crew now that we are allowed to sail with two people in the boat. It has overall been a really exciting experience, and something that makes afternoon practices some of the highlights of my weeks, allowing me to have active mental rest on the water and time away from school work and other pressures. These last few weeks we have even been able to race against our own team, allowing me to have my first taste of how competitions and regattas will be like next year. It has been a ton of fun and satisfying to once more have a team that I am working with and feeling as though I am a part of. It is also refreshing to be able to try something new, especially a sport, and feel progress, noticeable progress every time I am on the water. I find myself having more fun each time I sail and I am more grateful every day that I decided to take a chance and walk onto the team.


  • Athletics
  • First-Year
  • Residential Life
  • Student Activities
  • Student Life

Emily Class of '24

Hey everyone! My name is Emily and I am concentrating in Earth and Planetary sciences. I’m passionate about researching in the field and getting my hands dirty for science.

Emily Launderville