When Julie Rechel, '11, started investigating the impact of injuries on athletes, she didn't expect that one day she would benefit from her own research.

After being home schooled for much of high school, Rechel was used to having the flexibility to dive into subjects that piqued her interest. As a triathlete, she was curious about patterns of sports injuries in high school athletes and worked with researchers at Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, to identify trends and make recommendations for injury prevention.

When Rechel came to the University of Richmond, she was introduced to the idea of cultural epidemiology in a medical anthropology course. The concept inspired her to investigate the cultural and anthropological side of sports injuries, which ultimately became the foundation of a thesis project for her interdisciplinary studies major in cultural epidemiology.

"One of the things I found is the distinction between pain and injury that many athletes have," she says. "Many athletes will say that pain is a normal, pesky part of what they do, but injury is actually serious enough to make them stop."

One day, Rechel's research intersected with her own life. During a trip to Australia her sophomore year, she was scuba diving when she tore the membrane between her middle and inner ears. While the injury didn't cause her any pain, she lost all sense of balance and was forced to spend a week in bed before she could travel to Sydney for surgery. A friend on the trip stayed by her side until Rechel left for Sydney, and her parents contacted the alumni relations office, who found a former UR swimmer in the area who was willing to take care of Rechel during recovery.

"Lying in a hostel bed in a foreign country, not knowing if I would get my hearing back, or if my balance would come back was terrifying," she says. "It ended up teaching me a lot about the importance of people and relationships. Seeing that support system when something crazy like a scuba injury happens makes you value those relationships even more."

After returning, Rechel — a member of the University's varsity cross-country and track teams, and the Triathlon Club — was sometimes sidelined from practice and competition due to post-surgery side effects, such as ear infections and dizziness, as well as her history of shin splints. She often had to remember what she learned in the lab and recognize when she needed a break.

"I was at the Southern Anthropological Society presenting my research and that same day was our home track meet," she says. "I was supposed to run the 5k and I desperately wanted to run, but my shin splints had flared up. I was thinking, 'I just want to run through them,' which was ironic, since that [issue] was exactly what I was presenting."

Rechel plans to continue her exploration of the cultural implications on medical decisions when she enrolls in pharmacy school this fall. She hopes to combine a Doctor of Pharmacy degree with a master's in pharmaceutical outcomes, which explores the epidemiology of the field.

"Pharmacy's a really good field for my interests, because more and more, pharmacists have to understand why people are or aren't taking their medications," she says. "We've talked in my anthropology classes about how culture can be a big factor in that decision."

Though Rechel is moving forward with her career, she's not putting away her running shoes just yet. She recently competed in the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship, where she came in second place against competition that included two past national champions and a world champion. Her placement also qualifies her for an elite license, which will allow her to continue to compete after her NCAA eligibility ends.

"[The elite license] lets you compete in the top-level races," she says. "I'm not in it for the money, because it's not going to be my career, but it will be cool to continue to race against the best competition and keep pushing myself."