Friday, December 2, 2005

Navy cadet brings academy's gospel home

Community School graduate thrives in Annapolis


Amy Alexander, of Sun Valley, is a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Express photo by Michael Ames

At the U.S. Naval Academy, they call her "Extreme."

For Amy Alexander, 2004 graduate of The Community School in Sun Valley, the nickname is accepted stoically, like most facts of her experience at the prestigious military school in Annapolis, Md.

Alexander, 19, was recently home for a week over the Thanksgiving holiday. The break was longer than for most midshipmen since she was chosen for the academy's Operation Information (OpInfo) program.

OpInfo is an outreach seminar in which midshipmen are sent to discuss the academy in areas of the country that aren't well represented in Annapolis. Southern Idaho qualified.

During her break, Alexander, daughter of Drs. Herb and Charlotte Alexander of Sun Valley, delivered five presentations to various classes at Twin Falls High School.

Public speaking was not a huge challenge for Alexander. She admitted being a bit nervous, but for this midshipman, each and every task is a new challenge, unquestioned and eagerly undertaken.

Alexander's youthful appearance belies a very tough constitution, one well suited to the rigors of Naval Academy life.

She made the decision to apply to the academy after visiting Annapolis and enrolling in the Navy's Summer Seminar during high school. It wasn't always going to be so for this former Sun Valley Ski Team racer, though.

"I wanted to do the Sun Valley lifestyle: live in a van down by the river with my skis and my kayaks and my bikes and maybe become a doctor in the civilian world. I probably would have been a ski bum had I not gone to the academy," she said, without a hint of regret.

During that pivotal summer, Alexander was turned on to the athletic ethic of the Naval Academy.

She said, "They recognize you for doing well physically—I like that."

Prospective midshipmen also learned of the numerous occupational opportunities open to academy graduates. "I knew then and now that I had a career lined up and the worst I could do in the Navy was as good as anything I could do in the civilian world," she said.

Alexander noted that the Naval Academy is a tough place, not for everyone, but if you last, "They take care of you."

Still, she was more surprised than anyone when she was accepted. Her parents, however, both former Naval medical officers, had their highest expectations met.

Since her first, or "plebe" year, Alexander's resume has read as one long list of physical achievements, doing justice to her Sun Valley fitness heritage.

She qualified for national championships in road cycling and finished first in her conference for club ski racing. Although the alpine club was more laid back than the ski competition she was accustomed to, Alexander was surprised that "a handful (of the Eastern skiers) can hold their own."

Aside from competitive sports, the academy has also presented Alexander with the opportunities to excel in pure physical and mental fitness.

In the Physical Readiness Test administered twice a year to midshipmen, Alexander executed a perfect score, doing the maximum number of pushups (85) and sit-ups (101) required in two minutes.

She completed the PRT's 1.5-mile run in eight minutes, 53 seconds, completing her achievement as one of very few non-varsity athletes at the Division 1 school to score perfect fitness on the test.

The PRT is child's play relative to the screening process Alexander was put through to qualify for extra-curricular schools such as an Army air-assault program ("jumping from helicopters") and the Navy dive school.

For the air assault program, applicants were issued Army gear: boots, rucksacks, rifles and canteens and were forced to run two miles and perform "chest-to-deck" pushups and sit-ups, all in full gear.

With that behind them, the midshipmen had their rucksacks filled with 40 pounds of sand for a 12-mile "Ruck Run." At the end of the grueling experience, they were informed that, after a drink of water, they would be embarking on a second 12-mile "Ruck Run."

"When they told us that, I figured that was the worst possible thing they could do. I had huge blisters, but I was either going to finish it or drop down dead," Alexander said.

After about a mile, the applicants were made to sprint a short distance and informed that the test was complete. They were grateful it was done.

By this late stage of testing, Alexander was one of only 18 remaining applicants from an original pool of 140. She was one of only two female midshipmen to finish the "Ruck Run."

"I think they were impressed," she said of her superior officers.

Alexander isn't quite sure where her Naval Academy experience will take her.

She is interested in following in her parents' footsteps and becoming a trauma surgeon for the Navy. First, she has her eyes set on EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) School. Asked why this bomb-squad type discipline attracts her, she said she's unfazed by the danger.

"It's not that I like stress, but I perform well under pressure. And I like a good adrenaline rush."

For Alexander, the Naval Academy seems to be just the place to thrive. "If you have the opportunity and you have the ability, you might as well accept a challenge."

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