July 17, 2008
By Anna Oleson-Wheeler
Editor's note: The following feature appears in the summer 2008 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.
BERKELEY - Unbeknownst to many molecular and cell biology students at the University of California, each day they attended class the past four years, they rubbed elbows with an internationally acclaimed athlete. To them, he's just Jernej (pronounced YER-nay) Godec. But when he's not in class, interning in the immunology department, tutoring fellow student-athletes or studying to earn his 3.32 cumulative GPA and Pac-10 Postgraduate Scholarship, Godec is training in the pool, looking ahead to this summer's Olympics.
Godec qualified to swim the 50 freestyle in Beijing for his native Slovenia after meeting a time set forth by the country's swimming director. This summer will be Godec's second trip to the Olympics after anchoring Slovenia's 400-medley relay at the 2004 Games in Athens. The 6-2 senior is especially looking forward to the atmosphere and notes that his time as a Golden Bear has been instrumental in his training.
"I liked living in the Olympic Village and the experience of being around the best athletes of each country," Godec remarked. "Training at Cal has helped prepare me - the facilities, the coaching staff, the swimming, the weight room are the top you can get."
Godec selected Cal because of its high-level athletics as well as the opportunity to pursue his academic interests. A few peopled warned him not to major in molecular and cell biology due to the demands of being a student-athlete and the limitations of his English. However, Godec followed his instincts and, while he admits the language barrier and classes have been challenging, he has no regrets.
In addition to his athletic accolades - he co-captained this year's team to a fourth-place finish at NCAA championships; was a member of Cal's 2008 Pac-10 champion 200 free, 200 medley and 400 medley relays; and earned 15 All-American nods - Godec has excelled out of the pool.
He was honored with a tutor achievement award for his work with Cal students in molecular and cell biology classes, and he spent one summer interning at a biotechnology research facility. In addition, he was recently named one of four Cal student-athletes to earn a Pac-10 Postgraduate Scholarship.
His summer internship so stimulated his interest in the applications of science that Godec began working under an assistant professor of immunology. Adding 20 hours of research a week to the hectic academic and athletic schedule of a Cal student-athlete was difficult, Godec noted. But it was his passion for swimming and science, in addition to his mastery of time management, that allowed him to succeed.
"I have been interested in natural sciences ever since I can remember and it still fascinates me," Godec related. "I'm currently conducting research in a lab on campus where I get to experience and utilize the university's state-of-the art equipment and techniques, which are not even available even to grad students and professors in Slovenia. The experience has been incredibly rewarding."
After concluding his undergraduate studies, Godec plans on working as a research assistant before applying to Ph.D. programs with hopes of becoming a professor or starting a career in biotechnology.