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Humans of Harker: Vignesh Panchanatham perspires for greatness

%22You+guys+all+saw+me+on+Davis+at+7%3A30+in+the+morning%2C+practicing%2C+because+I+didn%E2%80%99t+want+to+make+a+complete+fool+of+myself%2C%22+Vignesh+Panchanatham+%2812%29+said.+%22I+was+just+doing+different+dribbling+drills.+I+brought+out+the+cones%2C+and+whenever+the+goals+were+out%2C+I+tried+to+shoot+as+well.+I+knew+I+wasn%E2%80%99t+going+to+be+better+than+anybody+there%2C+but+I+wanted+to+be+semi-competent.+And+as+the+season+went+on%2C+I+could+see+that+I+was+getting+better+and+better.+Traps+that+I+would+have+missed+out+on+before%2C+I+started+to+get+them.+My+shot+got+better%3B+I+ended+up+scoring+a+goal.+It+was+just+as+time+went+by+and+I+kept+putting+in+that+same+amount+of+effort%2C+I+became+less+of+a+beginner+and+more+of+someone+who+has+a+lot+to+work+on.%22

"You guys all saw me on Davis at 7:30 in the morning, practicing, because I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself," Vignesh Panchanatham (12) said. "I was just doing different dribbling drills. I brought out the cones, and whenever the goals were out, I tried to shoot as well. I knew I wasn’t going to be better than anybody there, but I wanted to be semi-competent. And as the season went on, I could see that I was getting better and better. Traps that I would have missed out on before, I started to get them. My shot got better; I ended up scoring a goal. It was just as time went by and I kept putting in that same amount of effort, I became less of a beginner and more of someone who has a lot to work on."

Melissa Kwan

Melissa Kwan

"You guys all saw me on Davis at 7:30 in the morning, practicing, because I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself," Vignesh Panchanatham (12) said. "I was just doing different dribbling drills. I brought out the cones, and whenever the goals were out, I tried to shoot as well. I knew I wasn’t going to be better than anybody there, but I wanted to be semi-competent. And as the season went on, I could see that I was getting better and better. Traps that I would have missed out on before, I started to get them. My shot got better; I ended up scoring a goal. It was just as time went by and I kept putting in that same amount of effort, I became less of a beginner and more of someone who has a lot to work on."

by Melissa Kwan, Humans of Harker Managing Editor

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On those 40-degree October mornings, Vignesh Panchanatham (12) might as well have been the only person on Davis Field.

He’d bring a soccer ball and cleats to school every day, dribbling between the stray students migrating from the drop off zone to the academic buildings. Sure, he hadn’t played soccer in six years, but he was determined to make the varsity team. If that meant training by himself every day, so be it.

“In both basketball and soccer, if I’m playing with varsity athletes, these guys have put in a lot of work, and I’m going to show them my respect by putting in 110% when I’m out there,” he said. “Being a beginner mattered less because I was putting in more effort than some of the other guys, so nobody ever called me out on being worse than them, even the really competitive guys, because they could see that no matter what, I would be running at the ball full speed.”

Hence the spare minutes before class spent alone with the goal, dedicated to this one sport.

“You guys all saw me on Davis at 7:30 in the morning, practicing, because I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself,” he said. “I was just doing different dribbling drills. I brought out the cones, and whenever the goals were out, I tried to shoot as well. I knew I wasn’t going to be better than anybody there, but I wanted to be semi-competent. And as the season went on, I could see that I was getting better and better. Traps that I would have missed out on before, I started to get them. My shot got better; I ended up scoring a goal. It was just as time went by and I kept putting in that same amount of effort, I became less of a beginner and more of someone who has a lot to work on.”

That goal, according to teammate Nick Acero (12), was the moment that weeks of early morning training sessions came to fruition.

“I still remember,” Nick said. “It was against Priory, and that’s when we put him in, and we got a penalty. It was kind of funny because earlier in the game, we had another penalty and the goalie saved it. So we’re all sitting on the bench thinking, ‘Oh, he’s not going to score this.’ But he went up there with confidence, and when he scored, I think it was the highlight of the season. He hit it almost perfectly into the bottom corner. I don’t know if he did it on purpose, but it was pretty great.”

Vignesh’s work ethic also applies to fitness — his efforts resulted in a 120-pound gain on the bench press, among other improvements. And his yearlong “Abs for Laguna” campaign, so frequently screenshotted on Snapchat, is a testament to his ability to follow through on his commitments.

“I’m not naturally athletic, so all the sports I’ve done, I’ve just basically done for fun,” he said. “But working out is something that you don’t really need any athletic ability for, because as long as you keep consistently putting the work in and going to the weight room and putting in time and effort and commitment, you automatically get better — if you’re focused.”

His friends speak of him with a mixture of awe and mock indignation. While Vignesh doesn’t mention his own academic achievements, his friends inevitably list them: He got a perfect score on the Microeconomics exam. He’s an International Master in chess. Between that and his SAT score, there’s endless fodder for “we get it” jokes.

“The one thing you could say about Vig is that he’s super smart, super competent,” Amitej Mehta (12) said. “He is a genius. But I think he feels that if he were to express his competence more openly, people will sort of judge him as arrogant, so he tries to dial it back, which just ends up backfiring on him because then people sort of call him out for it. People see the fact that he has to dial it back is a sign of arrogance, so they give him a hard time sometimes — it’s obviously in good fun, but I think he’s a humble guy at heart.”

But his friends are just as quick to bring up his thoughtful personality. He’s the chess champion who bakes desserts for his close friends’ birthdays and senior nights.

“He’s the only one of my friends that my mom remembers,” said Selin Sayiner (12), the recipient of a red velvet cake. “Adyant [Kanakamedala (12)] comes over to my house sometimes, and I’m like, ‘Hi Mom, this is Adyant,’ and she still doesn’t know who he is. My mom doesn’t know who Shea [Tuli (12)] is, and Shea has dinner with us regularly. But she’s like, ‘Who’s that boy who baked you the cake?’”

Amitej had a similar experience — Vignesh baked him a cheesecake for his birthday.

“He’s a sweet guy and it shows,” Amitej said. “At his senior night, he was the worst senior being honored when it comes to playing, but he had the most people there to support him and watch him and make posters for him, so I guess that shows how great of a friend he is.”

According to Selin, her friendship with Vignesh never ceases to entertain.

“He’s the kind of the person who you could just sit down with in a parking lot or a random bench somewhere and just talk with, and that would be fun hanging out with him,” she said. “He’s someone who I’ll never get bored with, because he’s always interesting and he always has something to talk about, and he’s always so positive. You always have a fun time no matter what you’re doing.”

Back in the parking lot behind the Cupertino cafe, Vignesh paused to speculate about what his friends might say about him. He hesitated for a moment, then laughed. “He takes the roasts well.”

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Humans of Harker: Vignesh Panchanatham perspires for greatness