Sally Su (MBA ’24) shares her experience of collaborating with other Harvard schools and being the only woman on the team.
How did you prepare for the national championship?
I used to be a professional table tennis player in China, and I started to play table tennis when I was 6 years old. At age 11, I started to play competitively. I had practiced and played for more than 15 years, and I retired as an athlete more than 10 years ago. I didn’t really practice to prepare for this national championship, I guess I just relied on my old tricks and skills in this fresh tournament. I still got it!
Can you walk us through your experience during the competition?
It is a remarkable experience. I represented San Jose State University, my undergraduate college, to compete in this tournament 12 years ago. I never thought I would be back to compete in the national collegiate tournament again after so many years, and I didn’t know there was a table tennis team at Harvard. Last year, the team captain connected with me through a friend and invited me to the co-ed team. We competed in the regional college
tournament and made it all the way to the national championship. The whole experience has been a great surprise to me on top of the amazing HBS journey.
I am able to make many new friends from different schools and share school experiences. We are worst enemies during matches because everyone shares a great fighter spirit and wants to win, but we are best friends outside of the table tennis courts given the sport bonds us together so well.
What was the toughest match you played in the competition, and how did you overcome it?
In a quarterfinal match, I was playing against a very strong male athlete who had so much strength. I knew I had no chance to win, but I fought hard every ball and gave him a hard time. I lost, but it wasn’t an easy win for him. It was a great match and I earned a lot of respect from the audience as a tough female athlete.
What did you learn from your experience in the national championship?
I learned that my experience as a professional athlete when I was young really helped me a lot in becoming an entrepreneur and business leader today. It takes persistence, mental toughness, and extreme hard work to excel in the sport, and this is the same as a business professional. I learned that I need to appreciate that everything that happens in life is for a good reason.
I also learned that Harvard attracts so many diverse talents. My teammates are great table tennis athletes, and they are from different schools across Harvard.
Plus, HBS professors sent me best wishes as I competed in the tournament even though I had to skip some classes. Everyone is so supportive.
How does it feel to be the only girl to represent Harvard and compete at a national level?
I feel very proud as the only female athlete in the co-ed team because my participation promotes inclusion and diversity. Competing against men is definitely tough but it is not impossible – as long as I give my best to every shot. Girls are no less than boys, even in sports. Everyone is created equal, we all have our own games.
Can you tell us about the team dynamic across schools and how you work together to achieve success?
The team is made up of students across Harvard schools – there is Kyle from the Medical School; Scott from the Law School; Tex, Alex, and Jeremy who are all undergrads at Harvard University; and myself at HBS. Everyone is so busy with school work, that as we are waiting for a match to start, many of us will use the time to do homework on our computers. When the match starts, we all cheer for each other. We celebrate victories but never blame anyone for a failure. It is such a great team! We have already become lifelong friends.
Our coach, Yutian Wang, used to be a professional table tennis player in China and now owns a table tennis club in New York. He went to Austin (where we competed) to coach us, which also contributed to our success.
As a team, we utilize both our own network to get support and donations among friends and school clubs to enable us to travel and be successful.
How has your experience in table tennis impacted your academic and personal life?
I am always a fighter, and have always been very competitive in work. In life, this experience makes me cherish relationships further. Winning or losing in a tournament is always temporary, but friendship and sportsmanship are forever.
I am an entrepreneur, and I’ve learned that many VCs actually like entrepreneurs who used to be athletes because we are persistent, never give up, and are mentally very tough.
What advice would you give to aspiring student-athletes who want to compete at a national level?
Every opportunity to participate in tournaments is an opportunity to shine and make friends. Stay very focused on each game and match, keep fighting, always give your best shot, and in no time you will make it to nationals! Even if you can’t make it to a national tournament, you are already a true warrior!
How does Harvard support its student-athletes and help them balance academics and athletics?
HBS professors are very supportive. They have offered office hours for me to make up the classes I missed. Harvard takes academics and attendance very seriously in order to provide the best learning experience for all students, but is also very supportive to athletic life and competitions. They definitely want students to grow in all areas.
What are your future goals as a table tennis team, and how do you plan to achieve them?
Some team members are graduating this summer. But we know Harvard is good at attracting top talent, so we are keeping eyes on new admits across schools to see if there are table tennis athletes who are passionate about the sport who we can recruit to the team. Our graduating team members will come back to help the team on planning practice sessions and competition trips. I will be graduating next year, but I plan to always come back to contribute what I can to my Harvard team. I think this is why Harvard is such an amazing place – we have a strong culture of coming back and giving back.
Sally Su is a current RC at HBS. She is a serial entrepreneur, focused on building businesses in senior care and real estate. Her dream is to find an innovative solution to tackle the worldwide senior care crisis.
Pallavi Chadha (MBA ’24) comes to HBS having spent the past few years understanding the Indian startup ecosystem as a consumer VC investor. What she enjoyed most about that life was getting to know people and truly listening and understanding the stories behind their journeys.