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Institute Relay Draws Another Creative Crowd
By Rich McManusPhotos by Lew Bass
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In its 20th year, the NIH Institute Relay Challenge race has taken on some new cultural aspects, adopting the costume of such farcical runs as San Francisco's Bay to Breakers Race, and being better documented, via digital camera and videotape, than a World Trade Organization street protest. But it was all in good fun as more than 70 5-member coed teams ran circles around Bldg. 1 as several hundred friends, family and coworkers cheered them on.
The innate human desire to encourage one's colleagues found frank expression on Sept. 27 as participants some in team tie dye, others in camouflage gathered on Center Drive for the start of a race sponsored by NIH's R&W Association, assisted by alumni of NIH's long-time running club, Health's Angels. Toeing the starting line before the first heat which was sent off at high noon by a whistle blast from Dr. Richard G. Wyatt, executive director of the Office of Intramural Research was Jesus Vazquez, a guest researcher with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who wore a gold paper crown, courtesy of Burger King, a bath towel cape and carried a yellow helium balloon on which his team name Huge (Hughes) Heads was inscribed. Next to him was a woman wearing deely-bobber antennae. Then came a gentleman dressed all in black, presumably in tribute to recently deceased country singer Johnny Cash. And, like last year, a number of runners ran in street clothes, including long pants and brown brogans.
At least some of the participants took the event seriously. Finishing first in a time of 14:20 was Parasites on the Run, from NIAID's Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, which improved on last year's race-winning time by 7 seconds. "We get better as we get older," joked team member Marcelo Ramalho-Ortigao. Joining him on the first-place team were Karl Seydel, Nanda Gudderra, Ana B.G. Veiga and Deirdre Joy.
Team captain Gudderra had an especially strong reason for wanting to do well: "I was running this relay for my dad, who has not been feeling well recently but is doing better now. He used to be an athlete. I wanted to win this race to cheer him up and bring back that smile on his face."
On a recent trip to visit his family in India, Gudderra bought special T-shirts at Goa Beach for all his teammates. "Goa is a beautiful place on the southeastern coast of India, with a dozen or so beaches," he explained. "While in Goa I used to run on the beach, it was just great! While on the run, I decided to dedicate this race to my dad. T-shirts were a little souvenir to my team members."
The NIH relay was no run on the shore, however. The campus used to be a tranquil enough place that the race route didn't include competition with cars, trucks and other motorized vehicles, which coughed by in a steady stream. It is a tribute to NIH Police officers Udon Cheek, Robert Drummond, Marco Kittrell and their colleagues that no one got hurt during the hour-long event.
Other notably enthusiastic participants included Team Yuspa (finished 22nd), which, according to a colorful poster its adherents displayed, seemed to consist of two sub-squads: Differentiating Keratinocytes (finished 23rd) and Running Gels (51st). Some members of the 50-Sixers (30th) competed in those Cat in the Hat tall hats. And Action Potential (59th) had race-day T-shirts reading "Speed Kills" on the back; lack of speed is evidently harmful as well.
Participants also ranged in age from gray beards to peach fuzz. And the race wasn't restricted to the lean physique of the career runner (of whom there were several, including Marjan Huizing of MGB Blastest, which placed sixth) the event welcomes first-timers as well as veterans.
Last year's second-place finisher, Hughes Your Daddy, slipped to seventh this year; perhaps the coefficient of drag induced by the helium balloons that team members wore slowed them down.
Following the race, runners and their friends enjoyed a picnic with food provided by Hard Times Café and water courtesy of DrinkMore Water Co. If current trends continue, look for more weirdness at the starting line in 2004, when the race enters its 21st year.
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