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John Fish talks running, Harvard, Zen Buddhism and celebrity connections

Fish has shorter term goals of representing Canada on the world stage while also envisioning breaking 4:00 in the mile while at Harvard

John Fish

In September, Waterloo, Ont.’s John Fish took his talents to the NCAA, and inaugurated his varsity running career at one of the world’s most renowned academic institutions: Harvard University. The middle-distance specialist possesses PBs of 1:52.60 in the 800m and 3:54.00 in the 1,500m, and owns an OFSAA 1,500m silver medal. A Sir John A. MacDonald High School graduate, he now also has a semester studying computer science under his belt. We caught up with Fish to talk about academics, athletics, and his point of contact with some of the world’s biggest superstars.

Alex Cyr: What made you consider exploring south of the Canada-U.S. border in your search for a university?

John Fish: My decision was in part influenced by athletics and in part by academics. But, that is not to say that one country is better than the other in either realm – both have great runners and schools. What the NCAA has, however, is an outdoor season. I wanted that component [which isn’t offered in Canadian university athletics] in my varsity career, given that I consider myself more of a track athlete than a cross-country athlete. In terms of schooling, I did not want to pass up on the opportunity to go to, arguably, the best academic institution in the world. I think I would have always asked myself “what if” had I not accepted Harvard’s offer.

AC: You were granted the rare opportunity to further your education in the Ivy League. How has been the academic experience so far?

JF: It has been crazy. I am enjoying it. Harvard is a liberal arts college, so we can take a bunch of electives. Had I gone to a Canadian university, more of my courses would have been chosen for me, whereas here, only one of my courses was required. The rest, I get to choose, and some of them have nothing to do with computer sciences. For example, I took a Zen Buddhism course, taught by one of the leading Zen Buddhism journal editors in the world. There were about 12 students in the class, and we spent most of our time sitting in a group and talking about Zen philosophy. But, that is not to say the classes are not rigorous in general – I could not get around taking multivariate calculus.


AC: To obtain acceptance from Harvard is difficult. What do you think opened that door for you and made you stand out?

JF: I think running was what got Harvard’s attention at first. I was fortunate enough to be a national medallist and OFSAA [Ontario high school] medallist. But, I think the reason they continued recruiting me was because I had good academic credentials. I scored well on the SATs, and I am a national science fair silver medallist.

AC: That is not to mention your extensive background in computer sciences.

JF: Yeah, I’ve been pretty involved in computer science over the last year. In the summer before my Grade 12 year, I was hired by a Canadian software company in Waterloo as a software developer. I think I might have been the youngest person working at the company. We are an e-commerce company, meaning we work closely with any website governing online transactions – our website processes these transactions. For example, we deal with Kanye West’s website that sells Yeezys (his sneaker brand). I know people in the company who personally work with Kanye and Kim Kardashian to come up with customized solutions for what kind of business their website needs. I find it cool, because I follow sneaker companies quite closely.

AC: What was your specific role with this company?

JF: Last summer, I was part of an automation project. Our team created an app to design automation without needing any code. Basically, the app eliminated the need to run processes that have to be done in regular business, such as tagging orders for repeat customers. Now, thanks to the app, merchants (like Kanye) do not need to hire developers.


AC: And in the realm of athletics, how are you adapting to a new training environment?

JF: It has been cool. We are in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but I still get to train with some really fast guys. Coming from a smaller place, I was not used to having so many training partners. I really like the coaching as well. I respect his approach – everything we do has a justification behind it. All the workouts and their components are based on research, and if any runner has a question about a workout, it can always be answered and justified. Because I have a science background, that approach resonates well with me.

AC: What athletic goals have you set for yourself in your time at Harvard?

JF: My big short term goal is to make the Canadian team for the 2018 IAAF U20 Championships. That is where I am placing my focus this year. In the long term, I would love to break 4:00 in the mile. It might be too early to know whether I can be competitive at the NCAA level, but meanwhile, I am aiming to make a Canadian national team.

In terms of team goals, we want to become the best middle distance team in the Ivy League. A few years ago, Harvard won both male and female 4x800m titles, and we have the teams to do it this year again.

AC: Do you have any academic goals as well?

JF: I am not sure if I will pursue higher education after my degree here. I guess that for now, my goal is to keep going down the route of computer science and software engineering.

AC: And to meet Kanye?

JF: That is the ultimate goal, yes.