Alexandra Douwes ’11

Douwes-221x300Douwes delivered this speech as her keynote address at the 2011 PVC Banquet on May 26, 2011. An All-Ivy, All-Region, and NFHCA National Academic performer, Douwes grew up in the Netherlands before attending Princeton.

“I would like to start with a short poem that is a favorite of John Wooden’s, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time at UCLA:

Sometimes I think the fates must grin as we denounce them and insist,

The only reason we can’t win is the fates themselves have missed.

Yet, there lives on the ancient claim – we win or lose within ourselves,

The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.So you and I know deeper down there is a chance to win the crown,

But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test

Of giving all and saving none until the game is really won.

Of showing what is meant by grit, of fighting on when others quit,Of playing through not letting up, it’s bearing down that wins the cup.

Of taking it and taking more until we gain the winning score,

Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead, of hoping when our dreams are dead,

Of praying when our hopes have fled. Yet, losing, not afraid to fall,

If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man

than giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.

And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind,

It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates,

On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.

I wanted to share this poem with you tonight, because to me, it embodies what I have learned over the past four years as an athlete at Princeton. As we are all about to embark on the unknown Road Ahead outside the walls of our familiar Princeton bubble, I truly believe we athletes are the lucky ones. Who else has had the fortune of experiencing the true value of teamwork? Who else has learned to define and measure success in other ways than winning or losing, or getting an A or a B on an exam? Who else has overcome both physical and mental challenges – big and small – on a daily basis? And who else has the privilege of playing the sport they love, while representing the best undergraduate institution in the Nation?

I remember when I first decided to play Field Hockey at Princeton. Unlike many of you, I did not harbor any dreams of becoming a star athlete in college – nor did I go through the rigorous recruitment process. The first time I spoke to Kristen Holmes-Winn – our head coach – was around February of my senior year. She assured me that Ivy League athletics, while highly competitive, were considerably less of a time commitment than all the terrifying state school programs I had heard of: “we only practice 2 hours a day, EVERY day”, she said. To put this in perspective, I came from a country where field hockey practice did not involve anylifting or conditioning; we practiced twice a week, an hour at most; and the majority of our practices culminated with drinks and French fries at the clubhouse. The most we ever traveled for a game was thirty minutes, and parents rarely came for those “distant” matches.

As you can imagine, my first pre-season was a little bit of a reality-check. I showed up to our run test on that first morning in August, wearing my usual work out attire – tight shorts and a fitted tank top – and immediately realized that the transition was going to be harder than I had anticipated. Upon barely completing our third one-thousand, I threw myself over the end line and returned to my parents’ hotel room, unable to walk and determined to find myself a pair of those baggy shorts with a colored stripe down the side and a big, old, ugly t-shirt – “because that’s what all American athletes wear”.

The other thing I remember from that first run test, however, is how Leah and Paige – two of my older teammates at the time – ran the last one-thousand with me (at my snail’s pace) after they had already completed all three themselves. And though the thought of simply giving up crossed my mind a number of times in the weeks that followed, I knew that any teammate who would accompany and encourage a strange, foreign, freshman girl as she struggled to finish a one-thousand was worth fighting for.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long before I started feeling like “one of them”. I not only owned numerous pairs of the Nike shorts, but had found a sense of security and belonging on campus, in the midst of the terrifying crowd of highly accomplished and talented individuals that surrounded me. Especially at an institution like Princeton, it is essential to keep some perspective when faced with balancing the countless deadlines, early morning lifts, disappointing grades, unaccommodating schedules and hundreds of pages of required readings each week. For me, it was athletics that provided this perspective. We often complain about how “impractical” and “theoretical” the educational experience is at Princeton. And while I know we will one day come to acknowledge and appreciate the value of this broad education, I believe wehave all been particularly fortunate to be educated, not only in the lecture halls, but out on the field, in the pool, on the track and on the court as well. I believe it is this “education through athletics” that will have the most significant impact on our Road Ahead.

As the poem states: as athletes, we have learned to give our all; to bear down; and to dream. We have learned to compete and to fight for our victories, as well as for our losses. Ms. Emily Goodfellow, a very wise woman and a legend in Princeton Athletics, told me that one of the most valuable lessons we learn as athletes is to take risks in the face of failure – not afraid to fall. Fear of failure can be paralyzing, but if overcome, it can lead to endless opportunity and rewarding new experiences. Over the past four years, we have acquired the tools and the skills necessary to challenge this fear: determination, dedication, camaraderie, discipline and most importantly, heart. Heart is the key ingredient to success; but like many key ingredients, it is also the hardest to come by. True heart implies an unconditional passion for what you are doing and a belief in oneself that is never contingent upon the outcome; only then, does one have the courage to jump. You cannot win every game or play your best in every single practice – all you can do is believe in yourself and give your all.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule, true success is the result of practicing a specific skill – whether it be music, athletics, or another occupation – for 10,000 hours. He uses the legendary Beatles as an example: Gladwell observes that it was not until they had spent 4 years in Germany amassing 10,000 hours of performance time (between 1960 and 1964) that the Beatles were able to return to England and assume their place as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. While I am not going to discredit Gladwell’s theory, I do believe he forgot to acknowledge the critical significance of heart along this road to success. All of us here tonight understand the value of the hours spent on the field, in the pool, in the gym, and in the weight room. However, we also know that these thousands of hours do not equal victory. At the end of the day, what wins the game is that key ingredient, heart: a combination of passion, courage and an unwavering belief in ourselves.

Over the past four years, we – as a class – have battled injuries, struggled after losses, played through frustration and overcome our own limitations. I want to thank all of you for everything you have given to your team, to your sport and to our school. Though I have unfortunately not had the pleasure to meet or get to know every single one of you, I have no doubt that you too have given your all and thus developed heart – and that will continue to define who we are and will become on the Road Ahead. For, ‘it is you and I who make our fates…’.”

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