A C I F I C L U T H E R A N U N I V E R S
I T Y
U M M E R 2 0 0 1
Doctor excels in medicine—and
By Drew Brown
One great PLU mystery is the
origin of “Free Radicals” sign that hangs on the far wall of the
Rieke open lab. It’s been there since 1987, when Clay Cowl ’88 (along
with fellow chemistry alum Greg Schuster ’88) celebrated their underdog
chemistry softball team’s championship by creating the sign. The
banner is a symbolic, if not humorous tribute to what the PLU experience
was for Cowl— working hard, playing hard, and having divergent experiences.
Dr. Clayton Cowl
Cowl made most of his news at PLU
away from chemistry. His senior year, he was editor of The Mooring
Cowl found one of his greatest PLU
mentors in someone who would be considered odd for a chemistry
major—Frosty Westering. Cowl didn’t play football, but covered
the team extensively for the Mast. Cowl learned from Westering
concepts and principles that he has used throughout his career.
“I brought Frosty’s Breakaway idea—taking
people and focusing them on a single goal—to Northwestern,” Cowl
said. “They’re still using those concepts.”
After graduating from PLU, Cowl went
to medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago, completed
two residencies and finally landed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
Minn. At Mayo, he completed training in pulmonary diseases and
was appointed the research chair of the Division of Preventive
and Occupational Medicine, as well as chief of the Aviation Medicine
Section. He lives in Rochester with his wife, Cammy, and children,
Andrielle, 7, Arianna, 5, Alicia, 2, and Adam, who was born Feb.
Cowl spends much of his time on patient
care, performing forensic pilot examinations for certification
with the Federal Aviation Administration and seeing referrals
for occupational lung disease. He is also an active researcher
and consults for Northwest Airlines on such issues as establishing
aircraft oxygen standards.
LEVITATING: Cowl in his hot-air
Cowl has one distinct hobby—but for
him, describing hot-air ballooning as a hobby may not accurately
cover it. Since being commercially rated as a hot-air balloon
pilot seven years ago, he has accumulated three balloons and spends
his summer months participating in maneuvering competitions.
“It’s like levitating. There is no
turbulence, because you are rising with the air currents, not
fighting them. You can fly from as high as 10,000 feet to almost
as low as you want to go,” Cowl said. “Riding through a thousand-acre
cornfield over the tops of the tassels is like being on the ocean.”
Cowl has quite effectively found
a way to merge his hobby with his profession. His research paper,
“Factors Associated with Fatalities and Injuries from Hot-Air
Balloon Crashes,” appeared in the Journal of the American Medical
Association. “Balloons are very safe if you use common sense and
don’t break the rules,” says Cowl. “Pilot error—not mechanical
failure—is the biggest cause of accidents.” And the biggest risk
to pilots? Power lines.
Since Cowl’s article was published,
he has been considered a national expert on hot air balloon safety.
While he enjoys helping the hot-air ballooning community through
his advice, it’s a hobby first.
“It’s a nice diversion from medicine,
and I get to meet a lot of different people” he says. “Everyone
should experience it at least once.”