Speaking of Sports: Wild Summer
by Brent Harris
February 2, 2006
Mark Server never expected to be able to combine his love for science with his passion for the outdoors. Then he took an internship in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
Mark Server ’06 had a simple plan after he graduated from high school in Plainfield, Indiana. He wanted to attend Wabash, get an education, play some football, major in either psychology or biology, and go on to medical school.
In between classes, football practices, and studying, the avid outdoorsman also hoped to indulge his passion for fishing, duck and deer hunting, and hiking.
He never expected to be able to combine that passion and his love of science into one summer project.
But that was before Professor of Biology David Polley told Server about an internship in Kenai, Alaska, working with the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. The group works with and studies sockeye, coho, and Chinook salmon stock, operates hatcheries, and releases salmon back into Alaskan rivers.
"The more I thought about it, the more the work intrigued me," Server recalls. "It was a chance to do something different and to work in one of the last virgin habitats in the country."
So Server headed north to Alaska, where workdays began at 8 a.m. He was on the Kasilof River by 9 a.m.
"We would work the traps for up to two hours, then we would come back to the office and work on the AWL [age, weight, and length] programs," he says. "After lunch we would take scale samples from the otoliths [inner earbones] of the salmon. At the end of the day there was almost always time to hit the water and get in some fishing."
The work became routine for Server, but there was nothing ordinary about the respect he gained for the Alaskan habitat.
"I had a chance to see a natural salmon run," Server recalls. "That moment changed forever the way I look at nature. Watching those fish battle the current, working their way upstream to return to their spawning grounds, showed me the resiliency and survivability of nature. I understood just how powerful nature is. Nature finds a way to keep going.
"Our arrogance as a species is astounding," he says. "We think nature needs us, but that’s a false assumption."
While Alaska’s natural wonders amazed Server, he also came to admire the people he met on the Kenai Peninsula.
"Some of these people live in little one- or two-room shacks," Server says. "They’re so personable and down-to-earth. They’re not busy pursuing the luxuries of life. They find a way to survive hand-in-hand with nature. They fish in the summer, hunt in the winter, and live wonderful lives without the things we think we absolutely have to have, but don’t really need. We’re a spoiled society."
Server’s internship and rejuvenated connection to nature helped him make another decision. Going into his senior year, he had been a member of the Wabash football team for three seasons. An accomplished kicker, he led the Little Giants in scoring as a junior with 58 points and was a Second Team All-North Coast Athletic Conference selection. He was among the leaders in the conference, hitting 11 of 14 field goals and 25 of 28 extra point attempts.
But Server had also been an accomplished soccer player at Plainfield High School. He earned four varsity letters as a two-time captain and All-Conference player for the Quakers.
So for his senior year, Server took off the pads and put on a Little Giant soccer jersey.
"I’ve played in the spring with the guys the past two seasons," Server explains. "I just wanted to change things up a little bit. It’s kind of the same thing I did this summer. I wanted to enjoy the experience while I had the chance."
Server made the most of his opportunity. He played in all 17 games for the Little Giants at midfield, recording his first collegiate point with an assist on a goal against Hanover in a Wabash victory.
But the best memories of his final year at Wabash may well have come from his summer in the 49th state.
"This internship made a huge impression on me," Server says.
"I thought I knew what Alaska would be like from the National Geographic magazines and the Discovery Channel. I didn’t know about the volcanoes, all the interaction of life in the mountains and forest and lakes of Alaska. The state and the nature it contains—its entire essence—really took hold of me."
"I know I’ll go back some day," Server promises. "If I don’t, it will be a disservice to what nature holds for me there."
Contact Server at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Brent Harris at email@example.com