Not many co-op students would swim half-naked in cold, rainy weather on behalf of their employers. Even fewer would have brought home a silver medal at a global sporting event. But clearly Zorbey Ege Canturk isn’t your average intern.
The mechanical engineering and mechanics junior won a silver medal for his co-op employer, SAS Institute Inc., at the World Corporate Games, which is kind of like an Olympics where competitors represent the companies that employ them. He swam in the 1,500-meter freestyle event during the international event in Liverpool, England, this past May. He got to the top spot after placing first in two swimming events, the 100- and 200-meter freestyles, in the Istanbul Corporate Games, which are held in his co-op city and his home country of Turkey.
Canturk was picked by the company’s country manager after word got out that he had previously swam for the Turkish National Team in high school before swimming for Drexel for two years. Canturk and another employee were chosen to represent the team in swimming events, and while both won their respective competitions, Canturk was the only one who could travel to Liverpool to compete against other international swimmers.
“A couple of my colleagues came to cheer for me in the Istanbul Corporate Games, but the World Corporate Games was the cherry on top,” he said.
It’s a pretty optimistic statement coming from someone who says that the final competition in Liverpool, an outdoor race, “ended up being a lot more painful than I expected.”
For starters, the weather was rainy, the temperature hovered near 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water was even colder. Plus, the event took place at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and he’d be swimming for a longer distance than he was used to. But the worst had yet to come.
“I was freezing when I got in the water. Everybody else had their full-body open-water swimsuits on, and I only had a swimsuit that went from my waist to my ankles. It was made for indoor swimming, so it is thinner than paper,” he said. “People were looking at me like I was mad.”
Still, Canturk found the silver lining: “The urge to get out of that water as fast as I could helped me to get that silver medal!”
Canturk competitively swam indoors, but he also had experience swimming outdoors. In 2009, he swam across the Bosphorus Strait in a 6.5-kilometer cross-continental race that started in Asia and ended in Europe (Istanbul has land on both continents). He swam the four miles in 48 minutes to finish second among more than 600 people.
Prior to the World Corporate Games, it had been more than two years since Canturk swam competitively. He swam for the Turkish Nationals in high school and in college, when he also swam for Drexel from 2010 to 2012. His last event was in the Turkish Nationals, where he took second place in the 200-meter butterfly event.
Of course, you’d never know about his semi-retirement from his performance in the Istanbul and World Corporate Games.
“I was pretty confident from the beginning, so it wasn’t a big surprise for my coworkers. The company simply bet on the right horse,” he said. “Our country manager now introduces me to his colleagues as the swimmer, not the analytics consultant.”
Canturk still has some time left at his co-op, but he has already proven to be more than just “the swimmer,” too. He got his position at the world’s largest privately owned analytics company on the strength of his performance at his second co-op as a data analyst at Comcast, where he implemented an algorithmic solution for a technical recycling project that saved the company $1 million per year. Now, he implements analytics projects for the company’s various clients on their sites, which means writing codes to analyze data, publishing the solutions in reports and teaching the software to clients’ IT staff.
Outside of work, he’s considering taking up swimming again, diving back into the sport he first fell in love with more than 15 years ago. His little brother is already collecting medals in swim meets with the top teams in Turkey, and while Canturk probably won’t return to the 30 hours a week of practicing he used to do, he might get back in the pool himself.
“I’m still almost as fast as I was when I quit, so it wouldn’t be hard to pick it up again. I definitely miss the competition,” he said.