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Spring 2016 Athletics Banquet Address

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Estevan Velez, and I am a four-year senior at Northfield Mount Hermon. In the past 11 sports banquets that I have attended the speakers have spoken about their stories and how sports have affected their lives. Tonight, I plan to take a different approach. Rather than focusing on the sport, I want to focus on the idea of a team and what that means to me.

Cross-country, Nordic, and track and field are my sports. More than once someone has told me “you don’t play a team sport” and technically, no, I do not. In the past though I played soccer, lacrosse, football, and even a little baseball, yet I have never seen the three sports which I do now as different in terms of competing and being part of a team. After having played four years of these “individual sports,” my team is still important to me.

I, the person who is standing before you all today would be very different if it weren’t for my teams. For us, competing has never been individual — our success, or our failures.

Four years ago I walked onto this campus wide-eyed and inspired by everything around me. I joined the cross-country team, where I was immediately taken under the wing of caring and dedicated young men, and grew I by their side. As an athlete, they pulled me with them to top of the world and as a person, they taught me humility, grace, and sportsmanship. Men like Henry Colt, Mohammed Hussein, and Kevin Wang to name a few of many. They lit a fire which became my passion for sports. It wasn’t how athletic they were, it was how they carried themselves, and how they carried our team. I remember running through the woods now almost four years ago, talking and laughing and being together and how proud I felt to be a part of this great thing, this great group of people. These people had such a positive effect on my life that throughout my college process, I looked to them for advice and I’m even following Mo to Amherst to be his teammate once more.

As time continues, I have been fortunate to have Sidi and then Ace join me as well. My athletic success is due in part to how those two were able to push me. Specifically, Ace and I have a unique training relationship that could simply be described as symbiotic. He can go, and continue to go, for a very long time. I not so much, but I am able to offer him my speed. During workouts, he would pull me on our long intervals, and then as we headed into our hill sprints, I would pull him. When it came to race day, we were undefeatable. We would pace each other, use our opponents, strategize, and communicate. A force to be reckoned with undoubtedly.

As I look back on the days leading up to our final cross-country race, I remember Ace and I going through the same strategy over and over. Don’t lead, just sit, 5:20 mile, ride steady, hold on the hill, push over the top, burn the competition, 5:20 mile, push the finish, make sure we win. Whether one of us came in first and another in second didn't matter, what did was that we finish first and second to better the chances for our team to win the meet.

But it wasn’t just Ace that pushed me to be better, or that took home that win. We had an all-star group of boys with passion, camaraderie, and the rooted idea that when we worked, and felt that burn, it wasn’t for ourselves, but for our teammates. When we worked, we worked hard and then harder for each other. It’s one of the closest groups I have ever been a part of.

While this is one literal example of my team, it doesn’t stop there, it goes far beyond it. My coaches — our coaches — Grant, Steve, and Julia to name a few again, have also had a profound effect on my life. They have molded me into the athlete I am, but have also constantly been by my side for everything I have gone through, both good and bad. When I failed, they would pick me up and brush off my shoulders; and when I succeeded, they made sure that I didn’t get comfortable or complacent with where I was. When I had no idea what was going on or what I was supposed to do, or I needed help, or an advocate, or someone to guide me, my coaches were there.  

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Steve inviting me to come ski with the team one March afternoon my eighth-grade year. And I wouldn’t be going to Amherst if it wasn’t for Grant’s nagging during study hall and telling me, that one night my sophomore year, that it was possible. Many times these people believed in me more than I did in myself.

But then again, I would be naïve to think that my team ends with sports, because in fact it is so much larger. Athletically I would have never achieved what I did if it wasn’t for the multitude of individuals in my life who helped me stay on track. Teachers like Eleanor Conover, who spent every Tuesday duty night in Shea from 7 to 10 with me working on papers. Or Jamie Berger, my learning-skills advisor, who spent even more time with me, who taught me how to handle my workload, and kept me calm as I freaked out, and who was one of many who helped me explore my beliefs. Or Mark and Wendy, who have brought me back from injury after injury. The list again goes on, but that is the beauty of being an athlete at NMH, I have one of the biggest and best teams anyone could ask for. My team has pulled and pushed me to my limits, and I am better for it.

Many thanks to all of you, you’re my team and I am better because of you.

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