Nicholas N. Sweeney '92
Track & Field - Hall of Fame Class of 2007
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Praised by his coaches as an outstanding performer, Nick Sweeney remains one of the best that Men’s Harvard Track & Field has seen. He began his dominance by capturing a 1991 Outdoor Heptagaonal Championship in the discus. He followed this with a repeat win in the event in 1992, also winning the shot put the same year. Nick also won the Indoor Heptagonals title in 1992 for the shot put. His incredible discus toss of 58.06 (190-6) at the 1992 Outdoor Heptagonal Championships set a meet record, which he still holds, and earned him All-American status in the event.
Following his Harvard career, Nick Sweeney went on to compete in four consecutive Olympic Games: 1992, 1996, 2000, and finally 2004.
Remembering Harvard Athletics
I would like to thank the Varsity Club for this great honor and to recognize my fellow honorees. Track and field is "thought of" as a collection of individual sports, but there is a big team behind any finished product. My team's effort started in Ireland with a single Dad who had his hands full bringing up his sons and with two coaches, Phil Conway and Dan Kennedy, who perceived some athleticism -- or more likely, who noticed I was big.
The first game with which I fell in love was Rugby! When, for Ireland's Junior National Rugby Team, I garnered four caps, it seemed I was set on my way to join the Senior ranks. As I continued to grow Track and Throwing, which had at times seemed a "means" - forcing me to get in shape for Rugby - began to become an end in itself. And starting from the time at which I learned that only one discus thrower had ever qualified to represent Ireland in the Olympics, the idea of trying to become the first in forty-some years to do so was a challenge harder and harder to resist.
Where to go to pursue this ambition was the question. Superior collegiate programs and facilities in the States meant breaking the word to my Dad that I had my sights set “across The Pond”. As if that weren't news enough, I then had to break it to him that the US Schools that granted athletic scholarships all replied that I wasn't good enough to earn a "ride". Those replies motivated me. And they made it easier to make life's best decision -- to attend the school of interest that didn't grant athletic scholarships at all.
It did not please my dad when he saw the tuition bills. The one consolation to him was that, at Harvard, I would be near Boston, in the South End of which he had heard there were one or two kindred spirits. If he ever got word that I had strayed from the straight-and-narrow, he figured he was only a degree of separation removed from a cop who could pay me a friendly visit and remind me of family values, and if necessary, from a Mayor or a Cardinal.
Off I went fresh faced and ready to introduce myself to these "Yanks" I had seen on TV and of whom I had become such a "fan" -- only to learn from the Taxi driver who drove me from Logan Airport to Cambridge that, in Boston, "Yankee fan" was about the worst you could be. In the ride along Storrow Drive, I saw something that made me think I had arrived at Track-and-Field Shangri-La! Cage after cage! Big enough that they could only be for Throwing. "Yeah, throwing," said the taxi driver, "but more for hitting." Hitting? They were batting cages.
The culture shock was mild. The weather shock wasn't. Norwegian and French athlete friends came for a visit on Day One of Spring, thinking that at the margin they might draft off of the Spring Track spirit. On Day Two, we got snowed in. On Day Three, they were on the first flights out, with a slight change of plan, to train with their other friend. In Texas.
What puzzled them most on their way out was watching Crew coach Harry Parker yelling at his rowers as their boats broke through ice. Now those guys -- and do I mean my fellow honorees -- are crazy! Thank God I managed to convince Harry in a brief conversation as he eyed me curiously -- that I would never be able to pull my own weight.
The captain of the Track team, James Russell, was also an Irishman. Late one night he I were walking through Harvard Square. A pack of guys who we figured were Cambridge "Townies" jeered us, saying they were going to kill us. Jackets came off and with then-thick Irish accents, we returned the greetings. The vibe changed. We didn't know why the eight of them suddenly made nice, until they said they were “Southies”. They no sooner recognized the lilt, than begun to protest that by blood they were from the Old Country themselves. Years later when watching the "Good Will Hunting" scene in which the Matt-Damon character and friends jaw about going up to Harvard Square to beat up some "smaahht" kids, I was able to vouch for authenticity.
A Freshman, I was foolish enough to try to do both Track and Rugby, ... which led to a Rugby Tour in Australia and New Zealand, ... which led, unfortunately, to the first of many knee surgeries. The upside? Lifelong friends made in the Training Room. Drs. Boland and Steiner got me through tough times. Gary Geissler, Bill Coughlin, Jimmy O'Toole and staff, were fantastic. And Dick "Emmo" Emerson never let me feel too sorry for myself.
I call choosing Harvard life's best decision -- and it may sound cliché -- because of the people. Some say that you learn as much from your classmates as from your professors. To classmates I would add teammates, coaches, trainers, surgeons. In Frank Haggerty's pre-meet speeches -- "They're not coming into our house and beating us!" -- If there was ever a pause, he would humbly implore "Summa" Johnson to complete the message.
In hindsight I am grateful that I handicapped my athletic career by rooming with three non-athletes -- maybe I should say non-varsity athletes, lest they be insulted. To be even more precise, maybe I should say, three guys who weren't counting grams of protein ingested or hours of REM sleep on nights before meets. Any protest from me as to why we should not dedicate a full common room to the function of "wet bar" -- in exchange for having to double up on sleeping arrangements -- naturally fell on deaf ears. School Spirit prevailed on and off the field, among students and among administrators. And I capitalized. To stand by my roommates for offences committed over the weekend, I would make the long walk to the House Master's Residence. "Master Bossert", I would hate for our rooming group's privileges to be curtailed. Did I mention I was competing for Harvard at the Ivy League Championship that weekend? And that we beat Yale!"
I loved my undergrad years at Harvard so much that I refused to leave, coming back and coaching for two years and serving as a Freshman Proctor, posts with the not insignificant benefits of full privileges to the new weight room, of meeting the likes of Dom Sardo, the strength coach who pushed me to new levels, and of laying the groundwork for the chance to compete in Olympic Games and World Championships.
Thanks to members of this team, who -- surgery after surgery -- never gave up on me.
Thanks to Chet Stone and Artie Clifford who took pity on the oversized Irish guy who looked a little silly in off-the-rack and for-normal-humans tracksuits. I never lacked for workout stuff from my freshman year on. I do confess that some of that Harvard-insignia apparel might have made its way back to Dublin somehow or other -– for the up and coming throwers of course!
Thanks to Paul Turner who helped me in my comeback for the Athens Olympics.
Thanks to all the people I met while working at the Gentle Giants and Titan Moving Company who are some of my best friends to this day and who encouraged me along the way. Toughest workout in college was moving furniture on weekends.
Thanks to Al Gordon who is a tireless supporter of Harvard and who is doing great at 106 years young.
Thanks to Bill McCurdy whom I miss very much. I will always remember our Trackside chats and his letters to me before big competitions. His advice I still follow to this day.
And of course thanks to my family who always keep things in perspective.
I would like to thank others who offered me support during my Harvard days: Bill Cleary, Jack Reardon, Fran Toland, Al Bashian and the Friends of Harvard Track and Field.
Again, I would like to thank the Harvard Varsity Club for this great Honor.