Beyond Harvard senior Abdullah Bannan’s light crew career, there is an impressive story: a story that demonstrates his resilience and strong desire to help others.
Growing up in Aleppo, Syria, Bannan’s childhood was altered by his country’s civil war. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has been the center of a major military conflict between the government and numerous Sunni opposition rebel groups. The conflict began when Bannan was entering seventh grade, and he recalls hearing about “people protesting and children being kidnapped by the government.” Citizens were conscripted by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to join the Syrian Armed Forces and its many allies, but many soon defected and joined the Free Syrian Army, a breakaway branch of the military that was formed in 2011 with the intention of overthrowing Assad.
The world of fifth graders changed when fighting broke out in Aleppo on July 19, 2012. Bannan’s father, hoping to prevent the government from taking full power, was determined to stay in the city. But the shelling destroyed Bannan’s house, and he was forced to evacuate.
“I think it’s ridiculous for me to talk about it in the past like it’s over,” Bannan wrote in an email. “I don’t know if it’s the age I experienced it, or the length of that experience, but it’s still a big part of who I am and it’s something that sticks in my mind at the moment. least 5 times a day.”
Despite the hardships he and his family faced, Bannan found inspiration in a 2014 Class Day speech by Sarah Abushaar titled “The Harvard Spring.”
“I didn’t know anything at the time, but I just knew that I wanted to do my best to change everything in my power to change,” Bannan wrote. “However, over the years it was obvious that anything I wanted to do would be limited in the political climate, so I wanted an education that would give me the chance to make a real change.”
Bannan pursued studies in biology, which he first became interested in while attending Al-Basl High School for Exceptional Students, a government institution for gifted students, founded by the Syrian Ministry of Education in 1998 .
“I first got into biology and chemistry when I participated in the National Biology Olympiad in high school and was able to experience concepts on a deeper level through courses at university. local,” he wrote. “[I] then I ended up competing and winning at the International Biology Olympiad, which really showed me how far passion can go, even in difficult circumstances.
Following in Abushaar’s footsteps, Bannan continued his studies in chemical and physical biology at Harvard. However, the journey to Cambridge was difficult.
“We couldn’t pay for the standardized tests ourselves from Syria because of the economic sanctions,” he said. “There were hardly any resources, and we all do our secondary studies in Arabic.”
During her application process, Bannan heard about the Syrian Youth Empowerment Initiative through a friend of hers. Founded in 2015 by George Batah and Majed Abdulsamad, SYE is a program that pays standardized test fees, provides preparation resources and matches Syrian high school students with mentors who guide them through the college application process. . Today, Bannan serves as an active mentor for the organization.
It wasn’t until he arrived at Harvard that Bannan pursued his lifelong interest in rowing, which he had never tried in Syria.
“I grew up watching the Olympics with my family, and we always watched gymnastics, swimming and rowing,” Bannan wrote. “I’ve always been fascinated that sport is the right combination of strength and cardio.”
Midway through his sophomore year, Bannan contacted rowing coaches at Harvard to ask if he could make the team. However, due to his relative inexperience in the sport, he had several intensive one-on-one sessions with the lightweight coaches to keep him up to date with the rest of the squad.
“Abdullah’s story is unlike any other,” said teammate, second Brahm Erdmann. “He certainly took the road less traveled to become a rower at Harvard, which ironically makes him a typical member of our team: he seized an opportunity and ran away. That’s what Harvard’s varsity light crew represents.
Despite his late start, Bannan has had many impressive accomplishments in his rowing career, one of which came in a race against Navy in the Haines Cup, which took place on the River Severn in Annapolis, USA. Maryland, April 23, 2021.
In this race, Bannan “stroked” the boat, which meant he had to sit closest to the stern of the boat and set the pace and pace for the crew to follow. The stroker plays a vital role during the race, as this rate can determine whether a boat wins or loses a race.
Bannan recalled that during the race he was nervous.
“I was in a very mixed state when we stopped seeing the other two Navy boats[s],” he wrote. “But then one of my team mates shouted my name from the back which kind of brought me back to reality and reminded me of the other seven rowers behind me, all behind me , all doing their best to move the boat. ”
The team ended up finishing second at 11.3 seconds, tied with the fifth-ranked Navy varsity team at 6:41.3.
“It was the support of being around 30 other teammates cheering you on, as everyone pushed themselves to the absolute limits of their heart rate and lung capacity,” Bannan noted of the race.
Another challenge Bannan overcame in his rowing career was his 2K test. Similar to the one-mile run test, the 2K rowing test assesses rowers’ endurance, performance and resilience. However, a week before his scheduled 2K, Bannan contracted Covid-19 so he was unable to train with the rest of the squad.
“It really stressed me out as we had built up our fitness over the weeks leading up to the test and the coaches had made very specific plans for each of us to do well in this test,” he wrote. .
However, determined to stay on track, he cycled through the basement of Dunster House with his mask on, managing to set a personal best.
—Writer Derek Hu can be reached at email@example.com.