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The Winter Biathlon

Closeup of hands using pipette

In the early morning hours of a hot summer day in 2000 I watched Simon Whitfield, a fellow Canadian, win gold at the inaugural Olympic Triathlon in Sydney. I became fascinated with the multisport: the combination of swimming, cycling, and running. I enjoyed each discipline individually and dreamed of combining them in one event.

In high school I got my first chance. What a thrill! But I was crushed: my swim, bike and run splits were each faster than my competitors. Yet they finished before me! How?

What I had gained with speed I lost in the transition. I had not appreciated the challenge of switching from the prone swim position to the seated bike pose to the standing run sprint. For subsequent races I practiced those transitions and saw my overall performance improve.

The Eagle Creek Reservoir is frozen in the winter and the icy roads make cycling a challenge. Yet the cold months have their own multisport: the winter biathlon. Originating as a Scandinavian military training exercise, the sport combines cross country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Biathletes race around a circuit pausing to shoot at targets. Each miss requires the athlete to do a penalty loop before continuing on the circuit. Hence, inaccurate shots=longer course = faster ski pace necessary to win. As in triathlon, transitions are the key to biathletes’ success: the ability to calm one’s heart rate and aim steadily – before rushing to finish the ski circuit.

Although I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to do my first winter biathlon, I see parallels between the sport and some of my experiments. These also rely on transitions between techniques with markedly different dexterities and mindsets. Here too the fluidity of transitions are the key to success.

As an example: Tomorrow’s Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

RUSH to label all tubes, medium, disposables and get to the animal room.

Calmly confirm the ID of the desired donor animals.

RUSH to collect the donor tissues.

(Interlude: Calmly rationalize your experiment to your just-dropped-by mentors. Explain anticipated results and their significance to your project).

Resume RUSHED collection of donor tissues.

Calmly count cells and prepare cell aliquots in the appropriately labelled tubes.

RUSH to prepare recipient mice for myeloablation. Do not be late for your irradiation time.

Very calmly identify the animals’ vein and inject donor cells. Do not miss.

RUSH to stain remaining donor cells for flow cytometry.

Calmly confirm you are adding correct antibodies. Do not add multiple antibodies that fluoresce in the same channel.

RUSH to flow cytometry.

RUSH RUSH home to dinner, to family, to bed.

Transplantations are among my most challenging experimental days. They require constant transition between rushed and forced calm demeanours. But these are also my favourite research days. They are synergizes of markedly different skills with the overall outcome relying on the fluid change from one technique/mindset to another.

And who knows: perhaps they are a crude form of training for an upcoming winter biathlon.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Stefan Tarnawsky

MS4 MD/PhD Student. Going into Internal Medicine; interested in Heme/Onc. Bread baker, bonsai artist, aspiring astronomer.