Alex Meyer won’t be found on the wrestling mat in Carver-Hawkeye Arena these days. He won’t be found on the podium following the Big Ten or NCAA championships. He probably won’t be found in the Hawkeye wrestling room, either.
But he might be found in a classroom, and he might be found in a hospital.
Meyer, an All-American at 174 pounds for Iowa in 2016, recently embarked on a journey through medical school at the University of Iowa, completing a dream he’s owned since high school.
He’s still utilizing the same work ethic that got him on the podium in America’s most prestigious collegiate wrestling event.
“Wrestling definitely helps me in medical school because there’s a lot of independence and motivating yourself,” Meyer said. “I think the work ethic is hand-in-hand.”
Meyer received his first taste of the work it would take to reach the top of the wrestling world in first grade.
He went 0-4 that year.
But Meyer, still young enough to improve his technique and master the wrestling craft that is far different from other sports, continued to chug along.
Meyer went to school at Southeast Polk in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. The Rams are known as one of the best high-school wrestling programs in the country.
Shortly after Meyer left, Southeast Polk won back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 2016, reaching a national ranking as high as No. 7 in 2015.
Most kids who earn a spot in the varsity lineup begin wrestling early and show flashes of potential at a young age, especially the ones who go on to compete at the collegiate level.
That’s what Meyer did. But when he entered high school, things became tricky.
After undergoing a knee surgery for a torn meniscus the summer before his sophomore year, Meyer gained an interest in the medical field. A future was born and a balance created.
Eventually, Meyer would go on to place at the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament — the biggest high-school state wrestling meet in the country — three times, capturing an individual title at 170 pounds as a senior.
At the same time, Meyer kept busy off the mat. He took plenty of classes with college credit and enjoyed math and science, while finding time to be involved in student council, student activities leadership team, Team Leadership Council, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Luckily for Meyer, Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands knew the type of person he was.
Brands recruited Meyer well-aware of the fact he possessed an interest in pursuing a career in the medical field.
Because Brands is a big proponent of the Hawkeyes’ “Win. Graduate. Do it right” motto, he set up a meeting between Meyer and Todd McKinley, a trauma surgeon who Brands said had a lot of experience “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Brands said McKinley was frank and forward. Meyer would go on to shadow him in his profession.
“He was interested in the medical field, and we try to accommodate if someone has an interest somewhere,” Brands said. “We’re not just about wrestling here. We know that wrestling is an avenue to the rest of your life.”
The gesture showed Meyer what he could become at Iowa with his athletic and academic goals right in front of him.
“I think they make [academics] a priority because you can only wrestle for so long,” Meyer said. “You have to do something eventually after you’re done wrestling… I think they know there’s life after wrestling. They want to prepare us for life after wrestling, and having a degree is part of that.”
When Meyer committed to Iowa and arrived on campus in Iowa City, things didn’t get any easier after a busy high-school schedule.
He still found himself with a full slate of classes.
At Iowa, Meyer couldn’t declare a pre-med major, so he stuck with human physiology and chemistry on a pre-med track.
The track included about 10 classes, ranging from organic chemistry to physics.
If he needed them, Meyer also had the ability to utilize the school’s resources for student-athletes, including tutors and study halls.
Meyer used a tutor every once in a while and quickly posted the grade-point average necessary to opt out of the study hours.
Soon, it was just wrestling and school.
“I always say you make time for what’s important to you, and wrestling was the most important thing while I was in college, and academics was a close second,” Meyer said. “It was like No. 1 thing and then No. 1A thing that was important.
“I did that because I only have four years to compete in college. If I didn’t get into medical school my first time around, which I didn’t, I could always retake classes. I could do a master’s degree. There’s other avenues to pursue my medical school dreams, but you only get four chances in college.”
Meyer seemed to know exactly what he was doing on the mat and in the classroom. During his senior season in which he placed fifth at the Big Ten Championships and reached the quarterfinals at NCAAs, Meyer was one of nine athletes on Iowa’s roster to earn academic All-Big Ten honors. He earned the distinction each year he competed.
Meyer also closed out his college career as an NWCA Academic All-American, earned a Big Ten Medal of Honor, and was named a Big Ten Postgraduate Scholar and a Big Ten distinguished scholar.
The first time Meyer attempted to get into medical school, he was denied. It quickly became a time to brush up on some lessons learned from his wrestling days.
“Didn’t get accepted to medical school here the first chance,” Brands said. “[He] was accountable, got some outside help. Made himself a better prospect, did the interview process again, and slam dunk. He’s in medical school at Iowa. His path is not without road bumps or hiccups, or things that can be considered adversity. There was adversity there, and he overcame it. He’s always been able to do that.”
Meyer soon found himself in another situation with a heap of uncertainty surrounding him.
With the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic changing the worlds of both sports and academics in his second year of med school, Meyer has had to find a way to adapt in the classroom.
His classes have been online since early March. They will stay that way at least until July.
While it’s been different for students studying medicine across the country during a pandemic, Meyer has taken solace in a piece of advice from his former head coach.
“You do the best you can with what you have,” Meyer said. “You make the best of the situation. I’m reminded of some things Tom Brands told me, like after I’d lost at NCAAs — get the next best thing. The next best thing was to win your next match and get on the podium.”
Meyer’s next best thing in med school includes a mix of virtual courses and in-person training.
The students are on six-week rotations as it stands. Three of those weeks will be virtual, and the other three will commence when the students make it back to campus.
While it will cut down their time working with real patients, it will still allow them to graduate on time.
Through it all, Meyer has kept his priorities — namely, his family and academic coursework —straight.
That’s why he always served as an example at Iowa. His performance on the scoreboard and in the gradebooks set an example for the younger athletes who walked through the doors of the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.
“I have nothing but great memories because he was a great teammate,” Brands said. “The example he set is you can do both. I know there was disappointment his senior year, but he got on that stand as a junior, and he’s on his way. Six, seven years from now, he’s going to be an orthopedic surgeon or whatever he wants to be just because of his drive.”
That impact extends to Meyer’s younger brother, Aaron, another Hawkeye wrestler who just finished his senior season at Iowa.
Aaron went to Iowa as a state runner-up and conference champion in his junior and senior seasons at Southeast Polk with a plan to become a chiropractor.
The way Iowa treated Alex when he searched for a school to learn and compete at fueled Aaron to follow his brother’s lead.
“He’s not really an outspoken leader; he’s more of a lead by example,” Aaron said. “I’ve just kind of learned to know what I need to do and do it every day, and take on the task at hand and do it to the best of my ability.”
When Meyer competed at Iowa, his interests off the mat and out of the classroom took a backseat.
Meyer enjoys hunting, and his family owns some land in Hamilton County in north-central Iowa for that purpose.
But in college, he rarely took advantage.
Meyer estimated he went hunting once or twice in college because of his schedule.
“Hunting season is usually in the fall and winter, and that’s also the beginning of wrestling season,” Meyer said. “It’s also one of those things where you make time for what’s important… You can always hunt later. The deer will still be there.”
This past year, Meyer made a hunting trip with his family. But Aaron, still competing at Iowa, was forced to miss out.
There’s a theme to Meyer’s careers and interests. Wrestling, medical school, and hunting are all individual activities with an entity of togetherness in one way or another. In wrestling, it’s his team. In hunting, it’s his family. In medical school, it’s helping others.
While he’s doing things himself, he’s always surrounded by more.
The accountability he learned in the Hawkeye wrestling program helped him navigate that. Meyer has proven throughout his four years in Carver-Hawkeye and throughout his journey to medical school that he can count on himself. Others can count on him as well.
“First of all, it’s individual — wrestling’s an individual sport, and there’s a lot of accountability,” Brands said. “I think that in anything in life that you do when you want to be a high achiever, self-accountability and the things that go along with that are the most important ingredient.”