For Dr. Andrea Pernell, life has been a series of unlikely twists and turns, like the courses on which she made her mark as a Saint Mary's cross-country runner.
She initially enrolled at Vanderbilt as a biomedical engineering major. After discovering that she disliked the coursework, Pernell left Nashville, transferring first to a community college and later to Saint Mary's, where she majored in biology and psychology.
A high school track star (Southern California champion in the 220-meter event as a senior), Pernell joined the Gael women's cross-country squad. "It's wonderful how everything came together for me," she recalls. "Since the school did not have track, I thought I'd try cross-country. My coach, Hal Coons, was a great help. Our team became very close-knit. I remember some of the runners… Dina Kayed Woods '84, Tiana Johnson Martinez, and Liz Kerins Gunagle '85. It was an upstart operation—for a while, we didn't even have team uniforms."
As with academics, Pernell's athletic career turned out well. She earned All-American honors as a senior after a Top 25 finish at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) meet in Milwaukee. In 1989, Pernell made more Gael sports history, becoming the first woman voted into the Saint Mary's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Faculty and athletics department officials who knew Pernell have no trouble recalling what made her special.
"You could quickly see that Andrea had the dedication and drive to tackle a full science curriculum with labs as well as the demands of being a college athlete. She was a real inspiration for her teammates with her work ethic," says Shari Otto, former women's sports coordinator.
"Andrea had everything going for her, plus she was such a very nice person," recalls Biology Professor Allan Hansell.
Pernell went on to the Medical College of Wisconsin (affiliated then with Marquette University). She is among a number of former Gael student-athletes who have become physicians. Included in that group are former men's basketball players Ted Wood '80 and Matt Bair '89. Pernell serves on the medical staff of the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Las Vegas, where she treats patients recovering from neurological and orthopedic injuries and illnesses.
Not surprisingly, Pernell's four young children are already discovering their own athletic aptitudes. Alexandra, l4, is into hoops. Sammi, l2, prefers soccer. Robbi, l0, is attracted to competitive running. Trent, 6, likes baseball. Pernell gets to as many of their events as she can.
Pernell has also tried to stay connected to the College. "I saw the men's basketball team beat UNLV last season, spoiling the Runnin' Rebels' home opener. That was great fun," she recalls. "And I made it out to a campus alumni homecoming event. It was great seeing all the changes there.
"Saint Mary's turned out to be the best place for me, that's for certain. It's my dream and hope that at least one of my kids will wind up there so I can experience Saint Mary's College as a parent. That would be just great."