Former DIII Swimmer powers Michigan
Grad student Turk brings world experience to Wolverines
He swam with the Argentina National Team.
He is a graduate student at Michigan hoping to map out a career in public or humanitarian policy.
Oh, and Turk can swim really fast. A 14-time national champion with Kenyon (Ohio) and the 2012 NCAA Division III Swimmer of the Year, this week Turk is trying to help Michigan win its first national swimming and diving team championship since 1995.
He is certainly one of the most decorated swimmers in the field of 235 at the Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships. And among the most educated, as well. That is what gains the admiration of Michigan head coach Mike Bottom.
Turk turned 23 years old in February. While he was at Kenyon, he took a year off to study at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He graduated in 2012 at Kenyon and now is a graduate student at Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy. Turk understands, Bottom said, how to turn his swimming experiences into a positive effect on the rest of his life.
"Zach is a great example of someone who's already started to do that," Bottom said. "He fits in, in that he's a great living lesson among the guys. They talk to him all the time about his experience and how he used his training, his experiences to make his situation better."
"Something that I think about swimming is, swimming is a great experience, but I like to see it as a means to an end, rather than end to a means," Turk said. "I like to think it is progressing my educational journey. Just the experiences I have being part of Michigan, such great leadership and learning from team leaders, a different atmosphere, I think I'll take this to my life's job, my career, once I graduate from the master's program."
On Thursday, during the first day of the championships at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI, Turk finished third in the consolation finals of the 50-yard freestyle, earning six points for the Wolverines. He also swam the second leg in Michigan's third-place finish in the 200-meter free relay.
He'll swim in the 100 individual free on Saturday, and could also swim in two or three more relays on Friday and Saturday.
The national championships will finish off Turk's collegiate swimming career after just one season at Michigan because he had already competed three years for Kenyon College, a school located in Gambier, Ohio. Kenyon won two national titles and finished runner-up while Turk was there.
Turk still had a year of eligibility remaining because he took his junior year off from Kenyon to study in Argentina. He also spent a summer in Spain and was an intern at the U.S. Embassy.
"I got the experience to swim with the [national] team in Argentina, make lifelong friends, live with a host family, understand a different culture," Turk said. "It really guided what I want to do."
"He's kind of a free spirit," said Bottom, who learned of Turk from former Kenyon coach Jim Steen. "He has fit right into the team because he's got this experience behind him. He opens these guys up a little bit in understanding the world and understanding what we're trying to accomplish. He understands the big picture.
"And that's what we're trying to teach our student-athletes is that swimming is such a small part of your life. It's a place where you can learn lessons and you can apply those lessons."
In a record-breaking season in which Michigan won all five relays at the Big Ten Conference Championships, Turk swam a leg on three of them.
"It's been a great season," Turk said. "It's been a little different than a DIII atmosphere. The difference is maybe competing at the highest level all the time throughout the season. My season times keep getting faster. It's just been an amazing experience to represent Michigan."
Michigan, which won its third consecutive Big Ten championship this year, led the team standings after one day of the national championships. The Wolverines' 121 points topped two-time defending national champion California (89.5) and Auburn (80.5).
"This year, I feel like the team's bond is so strong. Everyone is pushing for each other," Turk said. "The atmosphere of the team motivates me, keeps me going."