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Alexa Nealy, Class of 2018

University High School alumna Alexa Nealy earned a trip to the NCAA D1 Rowing Championship alongside her teammates on the George Washington University women’s varsity rowing team when they won the Atlantic-10 Championship in Saratoga Springs, NY on Friday, May 12.

The victory marks the first time the George Washington women’s rowing team has become A-10 Conference champions and earned the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, which will be held May 26-28 in Cherry Hill, NJ. 

“Winning the A-10 was an incredibly special and exhilarating feeling,” said Alexa. “It was one of the top five moments of my life. We’ve all worked so hard, day in and day out for months (and years) with 20 hours of practice each week and 5 a.m. wake-up calls; they were all worth it for that feeling.” 

Alexa, who graduated from George Washington in 2022 with a BA in American studies and a minor in journalism, is currently pursuing her master’s in Interdisciplinary Business with certificates in Entrepreneurship and Global Management. She is set to graduate in spring 2024. Additionally, she works part-time as a consumer insights analyst for Herff Jones. 

This year, she was named first team All Conference for the Atlantic-10 and selected as both a team captain and the team MVP for George Washington women’s rowing. In 2022, she was named a Scholar Athlete by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association.

Alexa was introduced to the sport of rowing during her junior year at University by a “dear friend” and fellow UHS alumnus, Jacob Sears (’17), who was recruited to row for Northeastern University. 

“He encouraged me to row with him for Indianapolis Rowing Center’s junior team,” she said. “He really helped me to become competitive quickly and inspired me to get recruited too. I owe my junior coach, Emmanuel Pagán, so much credit and gratitude for teaching me perseverance and advocating for me during those years.”

Emmanuel Pagán, current head coach of the Vanderbilt University women’s varsity club rowing team, was Alexa’s rowing coach throughout high school. He was named Coach of the Year for the Southeastern Intercollegiate Rowing Association this year.

“Alexa Nealy embodies the essence of resilience and determination personified. Her journey in rowing has been anything but easy, filled with unexpected twists and turns,” said Coach Pagán. “She is a true inspiration for those who must repeatedly rise and start anew without missing a beat. Alexa has worked incredibly hard to be where she is today. The pride and admiration I feel for her are beyond measure. It takes a truly special individual to achieve what she has after a challenging start to her college rowing career.”

Marci Robles, George Washington University’s women’s rowing coach and Alexa’s current coach, was named 2023 A-10 Coach of the Year. Coach Robles echoes Pagán’s sentiment about Alexa’s perseverance amidst adversity. 

“Alexa embodies perseverance. Her journey to an A-10 Championship win and an NCAA bid has been a long one, and she’s handled any adversity thrown her way with grace and fortitude that has inspired her teammates and coaches,” she said. “It’s been fun to see her enjoy this year and win, and we can’t wait for what’s in store next weekend!”

In 2021, Alexa underwent a derotational femoral osteotomy and hip labral repair – significant surgeries that resulted in a severed nerve in her leg and her walking with an intense limp for nearly a year. Doctors told her that there was a chance she’d never fully recover, much less return to competitive rowing. 

“I eventually had to have the surgery re-done, and I now have a rod and pins in my right leg,” said Alexa. “I’m incredibly thankful to be rowing, let alone walking normally, and I feel so lucky to have had the help that I did from my family, doctors, and teammates during that time.”

Alexa credits the lessons she learned during her time at University – both in and out of the classroom – for the tools she’s utilized as a student-athlete. 

“I think the communication and relationship-building skills I learned at UHS have really prepared me to excel in my communities in Washington, D.C. There’s this huge emphasis on respect and empathy at UHS, and that’s something that I’ve found serves me well as a leader on a big team of women from different places and with different experiences,” she said.

Her advice to anyone pursuing a collegiate sport is to take pride in the smaller accomplishments. 

“Celebrate every PR, even the 1-second ones. You will be amazed of what you can accomplish if you tell yourself you can do it,” said Alexa. “Medical professionals told me to hang up my uniform and ‘become team manager.’ Screw that. Go for it!” 

The GW rowing team will face Yale University, the Naval Academy, University of Pennsylvania, Southern Methodist University, and Indiana University in their preliminary heat on Friday, May 26. 

“We are seeded 21st out of 22 teams, and we would be stoked to finish 19th,” said Alexa. There are literal Olympians on some of these other teams. They’re the fastest women in the country and in the world. We are over the moon to be in attendance, and we’re just going to go out there and see how fast we can go!”

Spectators can tune into the NCAA D1 Women’s Rowing Championship livestream on their YouTube channel. The race schedule includes prelims on Friday, May 26, semi-finals on May 27, and finals on May 28. 

Contact Communications Coordinator Nila Nealy (Alexa’s mom) at nnealy@universityhighschool.org for additional information about Alexa’s rowing journey and the NCAA Rowing Championship.