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Vol. LXI, No. 21
October 16, 2009
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Competition Across Time Zones
26th Annual Institute Challenge Relay Draws 105 Teams


NIAID’s John Thomas smiles amid the raindrops.
NIAID’s John Thomas smiles amid the raindrops.

For the better part of an hour prior to the 26th annual Institute Challenge Relay on Sept. 17, it looked as though the race might not happen. The skies had opened up, drenching race organizers and forcing arriving teams and supporters to take cover under trees and on the front porch of Bldg. 1.

Runners paced along the porch glancing skyward, but nothing could dampen the mood or derail the determination of the 105 teams that signed up for the event on campus.

“The goal is to compete and have fun,” said an excited Martin Gutierrez, the self-described “slug” of “Four Runners and A Slug,” a team fielded by NIAID. “Well…at least have fun.”

An NICHD team’s shirts featured photos of PI Dr. Gisela Storz. Shown are (from l) Dr. Chase Beisel, Maureen Kiley, Dr. Errett Hobbs, Storz, Dr. Sylvain Durand and Dr. Laurie Waters.
An NICHD team’s shirts featured photos of PI Dr. Gisela Storz. Shown are (from l) Dr. Chase Beisel, Maureen Kiley, Dr. Errett Hobbs, Storz, Dr. Sylvain Durand and Dr. Laurie Waters.
He and his teammates, John Brooks, Mary Parker, Michelle Scala and Rob Palmer had toyed with the idea of entering the relay, but it was only when Brooks said he’d seen it written up in the R&W newsletter that they got serious about getting the team together. They’re already looking to make it an office tradition.

“If the race goes well, we’ll definitely do it next year,” Brooks said.

Not far away, the “Catch Me If You Can(cer)” team was finishing up some stretching and strategizing.

NCI’s Mohammed Khan
NCI’s Mohammed Khan
"There’s more than one team from NCI for sure,” said the team’s Frank Perna. “And we’re not talking smack, but we’re gonna beat ’em.”

Joining Perna on the team were Audie Atienza, Catherine Alfano and Michael Sanchez, as well as Becky Ferrer, a postdoc.

“I want to be clear that there was no coercion to get her to run,” said Perna with a smile. Mid-stretch, Alfano added, “We promote health and we practice what we preach.”

Not 5 minutes before the first heat was slated to begin, the rain cleared, the umbrellas closed and the competition was on.

R&W President Randy Schools broadcast instructions on a bullhorn, the call to the races was played by trumpeter Dr. Harold Seifried of NCI and a whistle blown by NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman started the competition. The stampede of sneakers was drowned out only by the cheering of spectators.

Twenty-three hundred miles away, another heat was kicking off as well. “Team Arizona,” the NIDDK diabetes epidemiology and clinical research section’s relay team, was running a synchronous heat all its own.

Timed to coincide with the main event on the Bethesda campus, the Phoenix run—at 8:30 a.m. local time—was hot. At race time, the temperature had long cleared 80 degrees and was still climbing in what would wind up being a 100-degree day.

The CIT telecommunications cheering squad included (from l) Charles Colbert, Donald de Castro, Matthew Ashburn, Tiyonna Mathis and Koren Waters. Shortly before the first heat of NIH’s annual Institute Challenge Relay was slated to begin, the rain cleared, the umbrellas closed and the competition was on.
The CIT telecommunications cheering squad included (from l) Charles Colbert, Donald de Castro, Matthew Ashburn, Tiyonna Mathis and Koren Waters. Shortly before the first heat of NIH’s annual Institute Challenge Relay was slated to begin, the rain cleared, the umbrellas closed and the competition was on.

Jennifer Weil, who planned the race, said she wasn’t sure at first how the Phoenix runners could pull off a coordinated event.

Running the relay in Phoenixwere (from l) Charlene Gishie, Jeremy Pomeroy and Donovan Berry. First place Proud Snail Hunters: (from l) Mark Hoon, Christiam Camacho, Patricia Zerfas, Marc Gwadz and Abby Elbow.
Running the relay in Phoenix were (from l) Charlene Gishie, Jeremy Pomeroy and Donovan Berry. First place Proud Snail Hunters: (from l) Mark Hoon, Christiam Camacho, Patricia Zerfas, Marc Gwadz and Abby Elbow.

“I thought, [the relay race] is in Bethesda, and it’s not like they’re going to fly us out,” she said.

But some pleading by her assistant, ardent runner Charlene Gishie, forced her to find a way. So she got creative and worked with race organizers on the Bethesda campus to ensure the course specifications in Phoenix were up to standards.

“We’re in downtown Phoenix, but we happen to have a tree-lined path and all these canals right behind our office,” Weil said.

Much to Gishie’s delight, race organizers in Bethesda gave the green light to the Arizona effort and she set about recruiting a team. Donovan Berry, Jeff Curtis, Jeremy Pomeroy and Johanna Javier joined her for the race.
Second place Insert Name Here: (from l) Dimitre Simeonov, Kasey Jividen, Joseph Newland, Michelle Zook and Jim Curry. Third place The Brain Storm: (from l) Daniel Austin, Grace Ha, Florence Roullet, Josh Hunsberger. Not shown is Anahita Hamidi.
Second place Insert Name Here: (from l) Dimitre Simeonov, Kasey Jividen, Joseph Newland, Michelle Zook and Jim Curry. Third place The Brain Storm: (from l) Daniel Austin, Grace Ha, Florence Roullet, Josh Hunsberger. Not shown is Anahita Hamidi.

“I’m kind of surprised we actually did it,” said Gishie, who embraces the historic running tradition of the Navajo Nation. “It was so hot, we were just standing in the sunlight and you could feel the sun scorching your skin. I thought nobody’s going to do it, but everybody got into it."

Top Ten 2009 Relay Finishers
Team Time  
1. Proud Snail Hunters 13:50  
2. Insert Name Here 14:54  
3. The Brain Storm 14:55  
4. Catch Me If You Can(cer) 15:00  
5. The Motley Crew 15:14  
6. TB or not TB 15:16  
7. Kickin’ Some Axons! 15:33  
8. Pulse Chasers 15:38  
9. The Figgdom 15:41  
10. Pushing Our Gluteus to the Maximus 15:42  
Notable Team Names
National Institutes of Haste
Smells Like Gene Spirit
ARRAmatic
Half-Fast Hassenpfeffer
Office of Human Rebellion
 

The team finished in 19 minutes, 20 seconds, placing 68th for the day.

Back on campus, the “Proud Snail Hunters,” a team fielded by NCBI/NLM that has traditionally had relay success, took the early lead with a time of 13:50 and kept it through the second heat, winning this year’s relay and the Al Lewis Memorial Trophy. Team members Abby Elbow, Patricia Zerfas, Marc Gwadz, Mark Hoon and Christiam Camacho paced around and caught their breath as the second heat was run.

Official race starter Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research
Official race starter Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research

“Catch Me If You Can(cer)” was in second place after the first heat, but then fell to fourth once the second heat’s times were posted, finishing behind “Insert Name Here” (14:54) and “The Brain Storm” (14:55).

Having the most fun after the race was likely the group of four teams fielded by NCI’s Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biology. Many lab workers turned out in support of the 20 runners, collectively supporting the teams “Cell Signal Express,” “RanGo World,” “The LAT Pack” and “Gone with the Wnt.” In a nod to another element of a signaling pathway as well as the Margaret Mitchell novel from which one team drew its name, supporters held up signs proclaiming, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a Daam.”

However, it appeared that at least Steve Kales was giving a hoot about one thing.

“We beat the other teams,” Kales said of his “Cell Signal Express” runners, though he was quick to follow up his comment. “Not that there’s any rivalry or anything. NIHRecord Icon

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