Olympic Dreaming From Philadelphia

Filed by Susan Ainsworth & Linda Wang

This week, the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia is coinciding with the final week of the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing. So, it’s not surprising that the latest Olympic news has been a popular topic of conversation during the meeting’s breaks and social events.

Associate Editor Linda Wang and I wandered the Expo Center on Tuesday, asking unsuspecting visitors to talk about their favorite Olympic events. We also asked them to tell us how they stay active and to identify the Olympic event they would choose to enter if given that chance.

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Marek Pazick, who is doing postgraduate research at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, says he would choose to compete in one of the canoe slalom or covered kayak events. He says his aspirations are not rooted in any kind of paddling skill, but rather in the fact that athletes from his native Slovakia have garnered numerous medals in these sports—a source of pride for him. In the real world, Pazicky says he stays fit by boxing in local fight clubs in Scotland. While in Philadelphia, he has taken time to buy new Everlast boxing gloves for about $30, which is roughly half of the price he would pay in Scotland. Boxing gloves from Rocky’s hometown should be a fitting souvenir from this ACS meeting.

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If he could participate in the Olympic games, Al Padwa, professor of chemistry at Emory University, said he would enter any of the 200- to 1,000-meter track events. A serious runner for 50 years, the 70-year-old professor says that back problems have forced him to look to other forms of daily exercise, including biking or working out on an elliptical machine. Even more impressive is his commitment to high-altitude trekking. Most recently, he ventured into Western China in May and June. He sees a clear parallel between climbing at high altitudes and being a prolific research chemist. “Doing research and climbing at high altitudes both require a lot of strength and the perseverance to tackle many obstacles that get in the way,” says Padwa, who has about 700 publications to his credit.

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Jean Charles Digena, an ACS Project SEED student from East Orange High School in New Jersey, says she most enjoys watching the Olympic gymnastics competition. However, she admits that she has never competed in sports. Up to now, her life has been “all about the books,” she says. She sees a connection between Olympic excellence and success in chemistry, which she will study this fall at Essex County College. In both cases, she says, “you have to be serious about your goals and do exercises over and over again” until you have mastered something new and challenging.

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Basketball would probably be the Olympic sport of choice for former high school chemistry teacher Allene Johnson. Johnson, who retired from New Jersey’s Summit High School in 1997, recalls playing the game in her North Carolina country town in the early 1960s. Her real dream, however, is to see students “having a ball with chemistry,” says the 41-year teaching veteran who stays fit with daily walks. In her opinion, “they should have the same passion for chemistry that they have for sports, looking up to George Washington Carver the way they look up to Michael Jordan.”

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Playing for the Redeem Team, the U.S. Olympic basketball team, would be an amazing experience, says Scott Carr, vice president of commercial operations at Biotage. In addition to keeping up with the feats of Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant, Carr says he has enjoyed watching Michael Phelps’s performance at the Beijing games. Even while winning so many gold medals, “Phelps has displayed great character and a great attitude,” Carr observes. Although Carr does not expect to compete in an Olympic event any time soon, he says he does stay active through mountain biking.

Author: Carmen Drahl

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