An eclectic roster of Harvard athletes arrived at the Malkin Athletic Center with the same thing on their mind: the title “Harvard’s Strongest Person.”
One of several new athletic competitions offered by recreational services, the first Harvard Strength Competition was designed to determine which Harvard students — male and female — had the physical strength to match their vaunted academic stamina. Twenty-five hopefuls showed up for the mid-April competition.
Weights clanked and muscles clenched and unclenched as intent, sometimes grunting, students focused on their goal. Through a series of strength-testing events, participants and observers spurred on their favorites with an enthusiasm that sometimes tipped from encouragement into goading. As each event unfolded and competitors stepped up for their turn, the rest of the athletes scanned their every move, silently calculating their odds.
Shaun Harrington, assistant manager of recreation services, and Claire Goggin, intramural and Clubs Sports assistant, developed the strength competition with hopes of stimulating Harvard students who may find the “strongest student” title an added motivator for working out in the gym regularly.
Yet Doug Presley, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said the prospect of being named the strongest Harvard student was not what pushed him to enter. “I don’t love the competition, but events like this one help keep my workout exciting.” Presley, a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., who retired from running triathlons when he came to Cambridge, showed as much interest in the performance of others as in his own.
“This was something that was never done before,” said Harrington, “and Harvard has a lot of athletes that aren’t necessarily on varsity but have a passion for exercise.”
The strongest man turns out to be Harvard Divinity School student Patrick Comstock, who distinguished himself as an undergrad running cross-country for William and Mary College.
The strongest woman at Harvard was surprised by her victory. “The people who showed up for this competition were all very good,” said Luisa Gronenberg, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “Once I saw how good everyone else was, I didn’t expect to finish first.” When asked how it feels to be the strongest woman at Harvard, Gronenberg enthused (perhaps a little tongue in cheek), “It’s changed my life! Forget about that Ph.D.! I’m just waiting for offers from Nike and Adidas to sponsor me.”
The strength competition is just one of many opportunities for Harvard students, faculty, and staff to step into the limelight and prove their fitness. On April 27, the third annual Paul Gilligan Memorial Road Race was run, and on May 3, recreational services hosted its first outdoor doubles tennis tournament. Harrington said that the 2008-09 school year will feature an even greater variety of events in the same vein.
— Matt Craig