Finding balance: Twin biomed students set nearly identical goals

Alice and Sophia Gugel
Alice (left) and Sophia (right) Gugel at the Edora Pool Ice Center. (Kellen Bakovich)

Identical twins share the same DNA. They don’t usually also share the same major and minor in college, status in the Honors Program, plans for graduate school, and extracurricular activities.

Alice and Sophia Gugel take being identical twins to a whole new level.

They both recently graduated with a degree in biomedical sciences and minor in French. Both participated in the Honors Program. Both were recently admitted to the same master’s program. Both are involved in figure skating – including choreographing their own programs – as part of the Fort Collins Figure Skating Club.

“My favorite part of being a twin is having a best friend all the time to talk to and spend time with,” Sophia said.

“Because we’re studying the same thing, we’re study buddies,” Alice said.

The Gugel twins took an interest in biomedical sciences for a similar reason: both experience nearsightedness, which required significant ophthalmologic intervention (glasses and contact lenses) – and vision therapy for Alice’s astigmatism – when they were younger. Not always the case for kids, their experiences with their eye doctor were positives ones, inspiring them to follow in the footsteps of healthcare providers, who Sophia considers “heroes in everyday life.”

“The doctors I’ve had good experiences with positively impacted the way I see medicine,” Sophia said. “It’s an amazing way to help others and give back to society.”

For the time being, Sophia is more set on attending medical school, but both aim to first build a firmer foundation of biomedical knowledge through CSU’s one-year anatomical and physiological sciences master’s program, which is designed to prepare students for professional school.

After an ankle injury when she was 18, Sophia saw several orthopedic specialists and physical therapists, further developing her interest in orthopedic medicine and surgery. Alice is more interested in radiology for now but wants to keep her options open and learn about other specialties.

The twins didn’t have to travel far – from Longmont, Colo. – to attend college at CSU, but their nearly four years here have been packed full of new experiences. Being a resident assistant in Braiden Hall for the last three years – one of the few activities the sisters don’t have in common – stands out to Alice as one of the more formative experiences of her college career.

“It’s been an incredible way to meet other people outside my major,” Alice said. “In the medical field, I’ll need to work with people from many different backgrounds, so working on a team has been a great opportunity.”

Balancing biomed with French and figure skating

Though their plates are full of academic activities, the twins try to balance out the hard science by maintaining a few creative outlets. Both chose their minor, French, because learning a language exercises a different part of the brain than science. The beauty of the French language also reminds Sophia of the decade she and her sister spent dancing ballet when they were kids. While they gave up formal ballet training some time ago, they’ve shifted from practicing dance moves on stage to figure skating on the ice.

woman ice skating
Alice as Charity Barnum from The Greatest Showman performance featured in the 2018 Spring Spectacular Ice Show. (Photo courtesy Alice Gugel)

“It’s a way to express myself through music, movement, artistry, and creativity,” Sophia said. “It’s completely different from anything academic.”

“I love the freedom and I also like the speed,” Alice said. “I appreciate the artistry and how elegant it looks. It’s also a great way to exercise, which helps rejuvenate my mind and body.”

The twins have practiced at the Edora Pool Ice Center since they started skating in 2010 as part of the Fort Collins Figure Skating Club. They’ve done their fair share of competitions – both are U.S. Figure Skating Double Gold Medalists – but now prefer to spend their precious spare time choreographing their own programs and giving back to the skating community by judging competitions and skating tests.

One of their favorite events is the club’s annual Spring Spectacular Ice Show, where participants get to show off their skating skills in costume, Disney on Ice style. Though they couldn’t participate this year, they’re intentional about getting in dedicated time at the rink at least weekly.

And just like the twins pursue skating in an effort to find balance, they discovered some of their fellow skaters joined the community for the same reason.

woman doing ice skating jump
Sophia as Jenny Lind from The Greatest Showman performance featured in the 2018 Spring Spectacular Ice Show. (Photo courtesy Sophia Gugel)

“The club is so welcoming, and a lot of the other members are also working professionals,” Sophia said. “It gives us a more holistic view of what you can do with skating and that it can still fit into your regular work schedule.”

If the “double lives” of their fellow skaters are any indication, Alice and Sophia will continue skating regardless of where their academic journey takes them for the next year and beyond. For the music and movement it offers, the twins are grateful for their time on the ice – and even more grateful each other.

“Sometimes people don’t realize how close we are,” Sophia said.

Her sisterly sentiments are echoed by Alice: “It’s a blessing to have a built-in best friend.”