Alexandra Turvey ’24 came to Pomona College to work toward becoming a physician-scientist, a path that requires demanding classes and labs to prepare to apply for M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
This week, she’ll also be trying to become an NCAA champion.
Turvey, the SCIAC swimmer of the year, is entered in seven events—three individual races and four relays—for the ninth-ranked Pomona-Pitzer women in the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships March 16-19 in Indianapolis. She’s a favorite to win the national title in the 100-yard freestyle, with the fastest time among the entries at 49.96 seconds.
It might seem like a lot to carry for a sophomore in her first collegiate season after 2020-2021 competition was canceled by the pandemic. But Jean-Paul Gowdy, associate professor of physical education and coach of both the Sagehen women and 13th-ranked men, isn’t very concerned about Turvey’s mindset.
“Alex is a pretty grounded person, and she knows where she stands. She’s also very competitive,” says Gowdy, who is guiding a group of 21 Sagehen swimmers who qualified for the NCAA championships—14 women and seven men. Among the other standouts are Ruby Epstein ’22, the SCIAC women’s diver of the year, and Avery Turney ’25, the SCIAC women’s newcomer of the year.
Turvey says her ambitions are for the team’s success. Gowdy, who sees the men and women as one unit despite separate competitions, calls that promising.
“To me, when one of your best swimmers is super invested in the entire team and really gets energy and motivation from that, it’s a good sign for their events too,” he says. “She’s not going in just thinking, ‘I need to do this.’ She’s thinking ‘we.’ Who knows what will happen? It’s hundredths of seconds often, but I think she is in a good place and the team’s in a good place around her.”
Turvey is not only fast, she also has competed in big meets before. Born in Boston, she grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and swam in the Canadian trials for the 2019 FINA World Championships while still a high school student. She also qualified for Canada’s 2020 Olympic trials—only to lose her chance when the Tokyo Games were delayed by the pandemic. Canada chose a smaller group of swimmers to compete to represent the country in the rescheduled Olympic Games in 2021.
“Being honest, I wasn’t going to make the Olympics, but it would have been a cool experience to have,” Turvey says. “But hopefully it can happen in 2024.”
Preparing for a Medical Career
Turvey’s accomplishments would have made it possible for her to swim at the NCAA Division I level. But like a number of other Pomona athletes, she chose Division III because the more flexible approach to practice and limited travel allow her to manage afternoon labs, research and other coursework along with being an athlete.
“School’s a ton of work but I think having the support systems in place really helps, like having people from the team who have taken those classes and can give you advice,” Turvey says. “There are so many pre-health people on the team. Just seeing how the seniors have been able to balance that and the people who have graduated and gone on to great med schools, I think [Pomona-Pitzer swimming and diving] has a great history of having people be able to balance the two.”
Her classes this semester include a physics lab, and she also is conducting research in Biology Professor André Cavalcanti’s lab.
“We’re doing microbiome analyses, so sort of like doing genetic sequencing,” Turvey says. “Last semester, we looked at endangered Hawaiian tree snails and finding new feeding strategies to help them in captivity. It’s not really known what food they like, and so what they’re being fed in captivity is probably not optimal for their survival.”
Her plan is to major in biology in preparation to take the MCAT and apply to medical school and Ph.D. programs.
“I really love the research aspect as well as patient care, and being able to combine those two would be super exciting,” Turvey says. “I know they say ‘from bench to bedside.’ Being able to put these findings in the lab into actual practice, that’s the difference [physician-scientists] can make.”
This week’s NCAA championships schedule will keep her busy, starting with the 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay on Day 1, continuing with the 200-yard freestyle relay, 100-yard butterfly and 400-medley relay on Day 2 with a day of rest before wrapping up on the final day with the 100-yard freestyle and the 400-freestyle relay. (Follow the action live via NCAA video.)
Before they left for the NCAA meet at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pool, Turvey and the rest of the Sagehens had a special guide: Lukas Ming Menkhoff ’22 won the NCAA title in the 100-yard breaststroke in the same pool as a freshman. He gave the team a scouting report, right down to the style of the starting blocks.
“He’s been a really great mentor figure,” Turvey says. “He’s been sharing photos of the pool and helping everyone prepare for the four-day experience.”