Humans of Harker: Try everything

Sara Lynn Sullivan (12) opens her mind to every opportunity


Nina Gee

“I like the intensity. Even when you’re not playing basketball, maybe it’s just for me, but you’re always so focused on the game. It draws you in, even if you’re not on the court. And plus, because it’s so intense, you create such strong bonds with your team. I think some of the bonds that I’ve made, they’re going to last forever,” Sara Lynn Sullivan (12) said.

On the outside, you may perceive a quiet, calm demeanor from Sara Lynn Sullivan (12). Hands playing with the sleeves of her bright red sweatshirt and eyes locked on the air in front of her, she gives the utmost attention to the task at hand, in this case, an interview. Getting to know her is where it gets a little crazy. On the slightest switch of a subject, Sara immediately bursts into a bright ball of energy, eyes shining, a laugh bubbling in her throat. She grins wide, rattling off about Kpop, or basketball, or whatever you can hear her passionately describing on today’s tangent. 

Despite spending the last month concussed from a basketball match in Hawaii last month and being unable to play, Sara still speaks about basketball as if she’d been right out there with the team. 

“Ball is life,” she joked, ending the phrase with one of her signature high-pitched chuckles. “Though my coaches are always like ‘Ball is not life, you got outside work.’”

Surprisingly, Sara’s high school sports career began not with basketball, but with tennis in freshman year. Being new to Harker freshman year, Sara describes her tennis experience as a kind of transition into the Harker community. However, it wasn’t without struggle. 

“I remember sitting in that car and being like, ‘I don’t really have to do this. I don’t need to do this, like, I’m gonna play basketball anyway, and by then I’ll know people,’” Sara said. “And then I was just like, just get out of the car! Go and walk up to them and say ‘hi’. Who cares? Just get out on the court!”

She ended up having an amazing experience, though, when asked if she would do it again, said it “wasn’t really [her] thing.” Basketball, however, was. Though the intensity of the sport came as a surprise to her, she found she enjoyed being able to push herself. For Sara, it provided a welcome distraction from the stress of coming to a new high school. 

It’s a really good escape for me,” she said. “Because practice is so hard, it’s all I think about at that moment, and I don’t have to focus on what tests I have tomorrow or what homework I’m going to have to do later that night. It’s just there for me to work hard and feel good about myself.”

Sara’s been playing basketball since what seems like forever. At first, her family tried her out with different sports: ballet, gymnastics, but after playing basketball at the nearby park with her father and brother, that’s ultimately what stuck. Not only was it a way for her to bond with her family, but it also aided her in discovering the thrill of winning after she and her brother were finally able to beat their dad in a game. 

The bonds she forms over basketball is something that translates to her school environment. In a way, her team forms another family for her. Especially with her friend, Haley Arena (12), Sara’s life in basketball is steeped in tradition. 

“We have this thing called Saley Day; it’s like a ship [name], everyone on our team would call us Saley, because we’re always together,” Haley said. “On that day, when we created it, we were walking to practice at the middle school campus in the rain, and got tea on the way and we [were] completely late, but we didn’t care. We were just having fun, and we were like ‘You know what? This is gonna be Saley day,’ for no reason at all, and now we celebrate it every year.”

It’s clear from the way she talks about it, ringing clear through her body like a shot clock buzzer: Sara loves basketball and the things that come with it with every fiber of her being. 

“I like the intensity,” Sara said. “Even when you’re not playing basketball, maybe it’s just for me, but you’re always so focused on the game. It draws you in, even if you’re not on the court. And plus, because it’s so intense, you create such strong bonds with your team. I think some of the bonds that I’ve made, they’re going to last forever.”

Her love of basketball is evident even from an outsider’s perspective. 

“She really loves basketball,” Haley said. “It’s really upsetting to see her not play because she has a concussion … because I know she loves being out there but [her health] is her top priority for her, so she does all she can to do her best out there.”

An unmistakable element of Sara’s personality is her willingness to jump headfirst into everything that’s thrown at her. Call it impulsivity or fearlessness, no matter what,  Sara constantly pushes herself to try new things, even if the odds are telling her not to. 

In the wake of being painfully rejected from taking part in the dance show due to her status as a winter athlete, Sara turned to an unexpected place: acting. After talking with her coach and working out a schedule, she was ultimately able to participate in Harker’s annual Student Directed Showcase. 

“I had so much fun; I forgot how much I enjoyed [acting],” Sara said. “It’s very similar to basketball, I guess. It’s that adrenaline rush that you get when you’re on stage. Maybe that’s just me. It’s fear, but like, it’s fun for me, and I enjoyed it a lot.”

Sara actually enjoyed a lot of acting in middle school, and carried that into high school with the freshman Study of Theater elective. However, as sports began to take over her life, she dropped the hobby. Participating in SDS her senior year has reminded Sara of how much she loves acting. 

You create who you’re going to be; it’s really strange, because now you’ve got this other person who you’ve put so much time and effort into, and now you [can] portray them,” Sara said. “I find that really funny, interesting. When you’re on stage, it’s scary, but it’s like, it’s like a roller coaster. It’s that feeling of, you’re dropping from somewhere super high and you’re terrified, but it’s so much fun. And I think that’s what acting is like. You’re up in front of everyone and you’re terrified, but it’s so much fun.”

All in all, SDS was an irreplaceable experience for Sara, even after an uncomfortable audition process that pushed her abilities. 

“It was really out of my comfort zone but, I don’t know, I kind of made friends through it, so I mean, does it really matter?” she said. 

This nonchalant attitude towards things that would normally scare other people is something that characterizes Sara. 

“She’s fearless when it comes to trying stuff which I admire because I can’t do that,” Haley said. “But she’s always open to trying new things and meeting new people … She’s grown so much from freshman year. She is a lot more extroverted, [but] still with that introverted self.”

Sara’s fearlessness and willingness to try everything has defined the evolution of her character throughout high school, growing as both a person and a leader through basketball and her infectious personality. Sara’s basketball coach, Daniza Rodriguez, comments on her growth throughout the years.

“I think that Sara doesn’t give herself enough credit for the hard work that she does on and off the court,” Rodriguez said. “Being one of the only seniors at the beginning of the season, a lot of the girls look up to her. She stepped into a big role, and just watching her hit it out of the park has been such a joy. I don’t think that coaching would be as fun if we didn’t have players like Sara around.”

Part of it constitutes the fact that Sara is so open to forming bonds with people. While she wouldn’t necessarily describe herself as a “people person” and remains relatively introverted around strangers, Sara kindness and care for the people around her makes her a valuable and empathetic friend to have around. 

“I feel like people deserve happiness. If I can make people happy and if I can give them that then that makes me happy, and I think connecting with people, hearing their stories and just figuring stuff … out about them and just knowing them I think is kind of fun for me.”