By Assma Alrefai

Maia Ramsden on Pro-Running, Pacific Poetry, and Y2K fashion

When Ramsden leaves Harvard for the real world, she’s planning to be a professional runner. I ask her what she’ll miss most. “I think I’ll miss being super busy, even though it’s hard to imagine right now,” she says. “That’s what everyone’s telling me anyway.”
By Sage S. Lattman

On an inordinately chilly March morning, Maia T.B. Ramsden ’24 and I meet in Kirkland House. Ramsden was recently dubbed the “the epitome of a student-athlete” by her coach. But here in the wood-paneled dining hall, she is a little more student than athlete, drinking coffee from a recycled-plastic cup (a birthday present from her boyfriend) and munching on a butter-slathered Veritaffle.

A few weeks ago, Ramsden broke the 1500m national record for her home country, New Zealand. She has also won an NCAA award for having the highest GPA at the national championships in her sport and holds two national collegiate titles.

Like the rest of her senior class, Ramsden will soon leave Harvard for the real world. Unlike the rest of her class, she’s planning to be a professional runner. She’ll train with a team, though she’s still figuring out which one. Her days, she explains, will mostly just include eating, running, and relaxing.

I ask her what she’ll miss most about school. “I think I’ll miss being super busy, even though it’s hard to imagine right now,” she says. “That’s what everyone’s telling me anyway.”

Ramsden does seem busy. She’s squeezing our meeting in right now before a nail appointment and an afternoon of practice. Tonight, she’s going out to dinner with friends. “It’s the first time I’m doing that on a Friday night in…” she pauses, considering. “All year.”

“I don’t have a social life,” she says, laughing at herself. “I think that’s the part that people don't realize. I have friends of course. I love them dearly, and I love how flexible and understanding they are. But, like, I don’t see them.”

Running is far from the only thing keeping Ramsden busy. She’s spent the last year writing a History & Literature thesis, which is about how the work of poets from Oceania dismantles colonial tropes and reframes climate change migration.

After being a pro-runner for the next ten years, Ramsden hopes to pursue a Ph.D., potentially in the environmental humanities. In the meantime, she hopes to “reintroduce school in some way.” One idea is to join a book club.

“I want to be in an intense book club,” she says. “I don’t want a dilly-dally book club where we just drink wine and, like, chit chat. No, I want people to be pointing to the page numbers and being specific about the literary devices that this author is using.”

I hesitantly ask her if it’s okay to talk about her clothes. I don’t want to play into the trope of the reporter asking an accomplished woman about her outfit.

“Please ask,” Ramsden says. “I love clothes.”

She then apologizes for not crafting a “good outfit” today. She wears light-wash jeans and a red-orange sweater. Blue glass earrings painted with wheat stalks dangle from her ears. “This is not very exciting,” she says.

It is true that many of her outfits are more daring. Ramsden often wears early 2000s pieces that once belonged to her mom. Her Instagram page is like a Depop moodboard, a collage of outfits that would be the envy of every Barker girlie.

“I have some friends and teammates and running friends — and like, all power to them — that just are happy to live in athletic wear,” she says. “And I feel very differently. If I don’t need to be in Lycra, then I’m not gonna be.”

“Honestly, I feel like this year it’s gone downhill,” she says, referring to her style. “I’m not gonna lie: the more time I spend on other things, the worse my outfits get, unfortunately.”

Ramsden’s Instagram seems to reflect how she’s focusing less on fashion. Recent photos are quite heavy on running, professional pics of Ramsden on the track, donning her Harvard “H” or Team New Zealand pinny. Scroll back a year, and it’s the reverse: more aesthetic than athletic.

Last year, with her first NCAA title, Ramsden suddenly became a household name in the niche world of NCAA track fans. But she doesn’t really believe in the concept of a breakthrough season.

“It’s kind of funny when running media talks about people having these breakthrough years or breakthrough seasons,” she says. “I’m sure it was a breakthrough to everyone else. But anyone who actually knows that person knows the amount of hours that went into making that happen.”

While neither Ramsden nor her coach were shocked by the time she ran at the NCAA championships last year (4:08.60 in the 1500m race), she still believes “there is an element of luck to it.”

“I really believe that and not in a way where it’s like, oh, it was a fluke that I won or anything like that,” she says. “You put that race on another day and another of those girls who are equally fast and work equally hard would’ve had that same chance.”

What did surprise her was the social element, how rapidly she got attention from the media. “I made my Instagram public, and that was crazy,” she says.

What’s Ramsden looking forward to after Harvard? Turns out, it’s the same thing she thinks she’ll miss. “I’m excited to not be busy,” she says. “I’m excited to see physically where my ceiling is.”

“I’m a student first, and I’ve loved that experience,” she says. “But that’s what I’m excited for: being an athlete first and seeing what happens.”

— Associate Magazine Editor Sage S. Lattman can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sagelattman.

ConversationsEditors' Choice