Student, swimmer, trooper: Mike Turcott

By Nick Dawson
Take on Mike Turcott in the swimming pool and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come out ahead. He’ll be the first to admit that.

Mess with Turcott on the freeway – that would be Lt. Mike Turcott of the Washington State Patrol, by the way – and you’ll find yourself with a citation, maybe even behind bars.

At 6-5, 235 pounds, Turcott is an imposing figure when fulfilling his role as a Washington State Trooper, which he has been since late 1985. The 43-year-old is also an imposing figure as a member of the Pacific Lutheran University men’s swimming team.

For Turcott, however, the opportunity to be an intercollegiate swimmer while finishing his degree is nothing more than answering the question, “What can I do that I haven’t yet done?” The first answer: graduate. The second: “If the rules say I can swim, why not?” said Turcott, a one-time summer-league and high school swimmer whose passion for the sport was rekindled in recent years at the master’s level.

In 1985, during his junior year at Pacific Lutheran, Turcott turned 21 and decided to leave school to pursue a lifelong goal – to work for the Washington State Patrol. He graduated from the Washington State Patrol Academy in December 1985 and soon started patrolling state highways.

After spending a year working out of Ritzville in eastern Washington, he transferred to Centralia, and later to Olympia. Finally, after 14 years on the road, he was promoted to sergeant, which meant a move to Kelso. After another three-and-a-half years working at the academy near Shelton, he was again promoted, this time to lieutenant, and now works in the field operations division at the State Patrol headquarters in Olympia.

All the while, the bug to finish his college degree stayed with him, and in 2005 he decided to finish the work necessary to get a degree in sociology with a minor in physical education. He is on pace to graduate in the spring of 2008, 50 years after his mother, Dana Turcott ’58, earned her degree from Pacific Lutheran College. (His father and two brothers also attended PLU at various times.)

It was while working with PLU swimming coach Jim Johnson on his physical education minor (with an emphasis in aquatics) that Turcott decided to join the swim team.

Turcott and Johnson are the first to admit that Turcott the swimmer doesn’t strike fear in the heart of Northwest Conference opponents. In fact, a distance freestyle and individual medley swimmer, he will have a difficult time placing at the conference meet, a feat that would earn him a PLU swimming letter. But he’s not in it for the letter.

“What he brings to our team is a true love of swimming, a passion for the sport, and a real positive attitude toward the team,” says Johnson. “At PLU, swimming is a team sport, and he embodies that and truly lives it.”

With the approval of his State Patrol superiors, Turcott adjusts his schedule to allow for occasional twice-daily swim practices. He sometimes takes patrol duty in order to bank up enough comp hours to allow him to travel with the PLU team to road meets. On the road, there is no pampering the team’s elder statesman. “He’s no different than anybody else,” said Johnson, noting that Turcott shares a room with three male teammates, as is the normal procedure on road trips.

While Turcott may have been a novelty – how many 43-year-old state troopers are also full-time students and intercollegiate swimmers? – when he first joined the team, Johnson says that the novelty has worn off, and that Turcott is “just another guy on the team.” If there was any doubt about that, you can look in the stands at PLU home meets and find his 70-something parents sitting alongside other PLU swim parents, cheering for their son. What is different, however, is that Turcott’s 17- and 12-year-old daughters are also there, encouraging their dad.

While they would like to cheer him to a first-place finish, that has yet to happen. Still, Turcott already has won the prize when it comes to answering the question, Why not?

PLU student-athlete awarded Medal of Valor

For Alana Schutt, coming to the aid of three fishermen on Martha Lake this summer was “an easy decision.”

Alana Schutt received the Washington state Medal of Valor. Here, she is featured with her state representative, Rep. John Lovick, and Gov. Chris Gregoire.

That decision, on May 26 of last year, led to Schutt saving the lives of the three men whose boat was sinking. Because of her quick and calm response to the situation, Schutt received the Washington state Medal of Valor from Governor Chris Gregoire in a ceremony conducted Jan. 24 in Olympia.

The Governor presents the Medal of Valor “to any person who has saved, or attempted to save, the life of another at the risk of serious injury or death to himself or herself.”

Schutt, who at the time had just finished her junior year as a member of the Pacific Lutheran University women’s fastpitch softball team, first noticed the men in distress from the backyard of her parent’s home in Lynnwood. Initially, she thought they were “goofing off,” but soon realized that their boat was taking on water.

As her mother called 911, Schutt took the family’s paddleboat out to help, and on the way noticed one of the men struggling in the water some 100 yards from the boat. “He was a big guy, he was pale and in shock. He became my priority,” said Schutt, a strong swimmer who is trained in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. She pulled him into her paddleboat and then proceeded to the spot where the other two men clung to the partially submerged boat.

With the aid of one of the men – the only good swimmer among the trio – she pushed her paddleboat and pulled the partially submerged boat (at the insistence of the owner) to the boat launch where emergency responders waited.

While proud of her role in saving the men, Schutt said that going out to help the men was a reasonable and sensible decision. Training helped her think clearly and remain calm through the situation.

“I didn’t want it to be this big thing, like what I did was this great deal,” said Schutt, speaking of the Medal of Valor. She said what she did doesn’t compare to, for instance, people who enter burning buildings to rescue others.

But the three men whose lives she saved would certainly argue that point with her.

Photo top: Mike Turcott left PLU to become a state trooper in 1985. Two decades later, he returned to complete his degree and is embracing the undergrad experience.