In the southwest corner of campus, soccer animates the autumn air.
The noon pickup game in the field ringed by sycamores has flourished for some 14 years. And for those who can’t get away at lunch, Karl Erlandson, a PRAT fellow with NIGMS, has organized a cadre of evening players.
“It’s a good group, no fighting, never. We start fresh every time,” he says.
Two evenings a week, from February until November, up to 25 guys play soccer—known as football outside the U.S.—for 2 to 3 hours, or until sundown.
Summers, they start around 6 p.m., “but now, Nov. 1, we start around 4:30. Today is our last game. So it’s time to start running!”
With the help of Shobi Veleri, an NEI research fellow, Erlandson has marshaled a group that’s intensely athletic, but cool about it.
Members of the NIH Soccer Club include (front, from l) Karl Erlandson (NIGMS), Sanjoy Khan (NHGRI), Minh Nguyen (NIDCR), Antonino Baez-Rogelio (NIDDK). At rear are (from l) Tolga Barker (NIAID), Jerome Roger (NEI), Seong-In Hyun (NIAID), Lars Boeckmann (NCI), John Pooley (NCI), Ezequiel Nazer (NIDDK), Josh Bunger (Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine), Ameer Taha (NIA) and Shobi Veleri (NEI).
Photo: Karl Erlandson
“We run until we’re tired and then we play goalie, and we hope we have the same number of players on both teams,” Erlandson says. “We didn’t even start keeping score until the Russians came. A lot of them are programmers and they’re into numbers.”
With the exception of one local extramural postdoc, the players are intramural chaps. “And we’ve had many women play,” says Erlandson. Do they call him Captain Erlandson?
“Yeah,” he quips ironically, “captain of the email list. We have an online sign-up, from a pool of 140 guys. At least a third are active players.”
So is this a Ph.D. thing? “It’s not that kind of game,” says Erlandson.
“One time,” says Veleri, “a bus driver joined us.” The field is next to lot 41, where the shuttles park at end-of-shift.
Anyway, soccer is the sport of the world. NIH Soccer Club players hail from Canada, France, South Korea, Germany, England, the U.S., Argentina, India, Mexico, Russia, Italy, Brazil, Panama, Japan, China, Senegal and Peru. Over 270 million people play worldwide—male and female, registered and unregistered.
Our NIH players tend to be unregistered.
“There used to be so much green space here at NIH,” says Erlandson. “Now there are so many buildings. We played in the mud…We tried to play at night...and on that green patch between Bldg. 31 and 33, but the police didn’t like it.”
While Erlandson began playing in graduate school, Veleri grew up with the game.
“I started in India,” Veleri says. “We made a ball out of twine. Getting a [soccer] football was not easy.”
As untenured fellows, he and Erlandson are due to leave NIH within the next 6 months to a year. They’ll pass thetorch to someone else to manage the club sign-up.
“Here, the game is fluid, revolving and it’s fun to meet new people,” says Erlandson.
“To bring people in is easy. It’s a simple thing.”
Yet the life of a young scientist is not simple and can be uncertain. It’s not easy to find funding, to publish and to get tenure.
On the field, all that disappears.
“Most of the time, in science, if we lose, we don’t take it easy,” says Veleri. “In soccer, you learn to win and lose and take it easy.”