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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NCBI Teams Run in Memory of Iskhakov

headshot of Iskhakov

NCBI fielded at least 6 teams to honor the legacy of longtime relay enthusiast Alexey Iskhakov.

NLM’s National Center for Biotechnology Information fielded at least six teams, all running in memory of NCBI engineer and longtime NIH relay enthusiast Alexey Iskhakov, who passed away on Apr. 13.

Dozens of racers ran with teams named Proud Snail Hunters, Here for the Candy, Paper Tigers, Engine X, Huff N Puff N Stuff and VariANTZ to honor Iskhakov’s legacy in the event.

“Alexey was a tireless supporter of NCBI’s participation in the NIH relay,” recalled NCBI staff scientist Colleen Bollin, technical program manager of the Information Engineering Branch’s Sequence Archives and Submissions Program. “He recruited new runners by showing up at the desks of newly arrived staff and asking them to join, frequently bribing them with candy to get them to give it a try even if they didn’t consider themselves runners. He would contact runners from the previous year and convince them to run in the current relay. 

“Sometimes people formed their own teams, but often Alexey would build new teams from his list of recruits, building friendships between people from different parts of NCBI. Alexey would register as many teams as he could and maintained a list of alternate runners for the frequently occurring situation where runners had to drop out due to illness or injury. Alexey also recruited photographers to capture the race. Every year, Alexey organized two practice walks through the race course, during which he distributed candy and gave out tips for how best to run the course. 

Iskhakov, on the sidewalk, runs alongside Derbyshire, on the racecourse.

At left, Iskhakov cheers on fellow NCBI’er Myra Derbyshire, who was running for a different NCBI team circa 2010. At right, the NCBI banner has a long history too.

“On the day of the race, he gathered the runners, photographers and spectators, handed out more candy and guided the group to the race course. After running his own lap, Alexey would often run part or all of the lap with the other members of his team, encouraging them and cheering them on, and then go on to run with any other NCBI runner that he could find, cheering them on as well. 

“After the race, Alexey handed out even more candy and helped people collect the T shirts that were the usual participation prizes,” she continued. “Alexey also coordinated the sharing of photos after the race and shared the results.”

Iskhakov also was known for running under colorful team names. In 2007, he and teammates entered as “Supersonic Pancakes” but could not recall the origins of the moniker. 

“There were two Russian women who formed a whole Russian team that consisted of Russian-speaking people from the former USSR,” he had said, when asked by the NIH Record. “I do not know how they invented that name. I think that it is better to ask them about it…Seems that ‘pancakes’ is a free translation of the Russian word ‘bliny’—Russian-style crepes.”

Over the years Iskhakov made valuable contributions to multiple NLM/NCBI projects including development and maintenance of Links and History systems for Entrez, VDB storage system and most recently SRA processing pipeline. 

“We remember Alexey as a highly competent engineer who was well respected by his colleagues and who helped his teams to solve many challenging problems,” said Dr. Stephen Sherry, NLM/NCBI acting director, in a note about Iskhakov’s passing. “Alexey was highly dedicated to the NCBI mission and team and never made compromises to do the things he believed in. He will be missed.”

Large group of runners and team supporters in front of Bldg. 1

NCBI relay racers, with Dr. Stephen Sherry (standing, l) and staff scientist Colleen Bollin (standing c, holding the banner’s “B”)

Photo: Marleen Van Den Neste

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