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The Bridge - Going the distance

Biochem major excels in pool, laboratory

Going the distanceDefined simply, biochemistry is a branch of science that studies life—taking it apart and seeing how it works at a molecular level. Study the life of Emily Reale ’17, and you’ll find a student who excels at scholarship and athletics. In the lab, this biochemistry major researches the design of a new protein as a catalyst for storing and using renewable energy. In the pool, she competes in the 1650—swimming 66 lengths of the pool, almost one mile.

The opportunity to combine swimming with science was the deciding factor in Reale choosing to attend Messiah College.

Emily Reale swimming“I asked team members on my recruiting trips what they were studying and how the coach worked with their class schedules if there was a conflict,” said Reale. “When I visited here, 25% of the swim team was in some sort of science degree with a significant amount of lab time.”

The coaches and professors at Messiah assured Reale she could do both.

In the lab

Emily Reale winningWhen Assistant Professor Jesse Kleingardner was hired at Messiah’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry last year, Reale emailed him to see if she could work as a student researcher. She has been helping in the lab ever since.

“Even though she excels at what she does, I’ve never noticed the least bit of arrogance,” said Kleingardner. “The labs run a lot smoother with nice people in them. She’s like the glue. She brings people together.”

For her research, Reale created a 3-D computer model of a protein to engineer. She then developed a plan to mutate, grow and purify the protein.

“Our department found an instrument—fast protein liquid chromatography—that had never been used that would help me tremendously in purifying my protein,” said Reale. “Part of my job during the summer research was to get this instrument up and running. We were successful in that, and it has aided in this step of the project.”

In the pool

As she gears up for her senior season, Reale already has made history. Last year, she was named the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) 2015-2016 Swimmer of the Year, a Messiah first. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Reale hits the pool for 6 a.m. practice. Afternoon practices are four times a week.

 “She’s a hard worker,” said Nancy Luley, head coach of swimming. “I’ve found swimmers are very good students. The discipline it takes to be a swimmer transfers over to their studies.”

Although she grew up swimming shorter distances, Reale trusted Luley. “She wanted me to swim the mile at MACs,” said Reale. “It’s scary stepping up on the blocks knowing you are about to race a 17-minute event, but I love it. It gives me a chance to overcome my own mental game and the limitations my body thinks it has, because you have to push past all of it.”

But, it’s hard to push past a growling stomach. Reale recalls a busy semester of classes, labs and practices her sophomore year that left no time for lunch. “Coach would make me a sandwich to take with me,” she said.

Every day, Luley packs two lunches. “One kid each semester has a day when she doesn’t get a break,” said Luley. “Whatever I make myself, I make an extra and set it on my desk.”

What’s next? A cross-cultural trip to an African hospital helped Reale realize a passion for clinical care. “I plan on gaining clinical hours during a gap year [after graduation] that are necessary for applying to a medical program,” she said.

An ambitious, long-range goal? It’s just the sort of challenge she’s used to.

—Anna Seip