Gravley started competing in swimming in elementary school. By the time he was in high school he was swimming 25-30 hours a week, with the rest of his time largely spent studying or sleeping. His drive came from his parents.
“They did a good job of always encouraging me. They wanted to know how I felt about what I was doing. They wanted me to explore, see what I was capable of. They didn’t want me to feel satisfied. They helped me understand there was always something to build on, something to improve.”
As a teen, he says he began to see how skills learned through sports — goal setting, focus, team building, motivation and resiliency — helped him in all areas of life. “The skills are generalizable — you learn how to push yourself.”
The observations of Dr. Denton Cooley, the founder of the Texas Heart Institute and long recognized as one of the world’s greatest heart surgeons before his death three years ago, buttress Gravley’s argument about “athletic transferable skills.” Cooley, who led the University of Texas to the Final Four in basketball in 1938, noted: “I’ve always thought my exposure to competitive sports helped me a great deal in the operating room. It teaches you endurance and it teaches you how to cope with defeat and with complications of all sorts....Playing basketball you have to make decisions promptly, and that’s true in the OR as well.”
Much of Gravley’s competitive swimming was done through the Sandpipers of Nevada, the only swim club in Southern Nevada to produce an Olympian, Cody Miller, from Las Vegas. Gravley earned USA Swimming Scholar All America honors in high school and was recruited by Johns Hopkins.
Well aware that the Baltimore university is a world leader in scientific research, it didn’t take long for Gravley to decide to go to school on the East Coast. “I was very interested in how the body functioned and I knew Johns Hopkins could give me a fantastic learning opportunity...the depth of thinking and thought by my peers and professors blew me away. It opened me up to a whole other depth of thinking.”
He succeeded academically and in the pool, winning NCAA Division III All-America honors in the 1650 yard freestyle and the 400 individual medley. While at Johns Hopkins, he decided to become a physician, wanting to help people have as much quality life as possible. “People deserve the right to experience what they want in life.”
In addition to his love for the sciences at Johns Hopkins, he enjoyed creative writing, writing a poem, “Tommy,” in homage to his grandfather. One stanza reads:
You and Grandma took me up to Zion that one time.
I sat on the back of the
motorcycle, watching the white lines
twist along I-15.
You said bikers had to watch out for
snakes in the pavement, the hot tar could
make you lose control.
That would have been way more
badass, if a snake had bitten you instead of
just a little bit of cholesterol.
At least it took you quick, no pain.
At least they said that.
The opportunity to do research last summer at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City has Gravley thinking about becoming a hematologist-oncologist, a physician specializing in the diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention of blood diseases and cancers such as iron-deficiency anemia, hemophilia, sickle-cell disease, leukemia and lymphoma. “Immunotherapy is particularly exciting,” he says.
Now in the clinical portion of his medical education — he spends many days in hospitals — Gravley says he has no doubt that his time at the UNLV School of Medicine is providing him with the foundation he needs before choosing his specialty.
“The faculty is fantastic. They’re excited to help me build my skill set. I feel my education has been great. They’ve helped me realize that my decision to become a physician is the correct one.”