GUEST POST: Brain Waves all the way from Holland

GUEST POST: Brain Waves all the way from Holland

Neuroscientist and speed skater Jessica Merkens writes about how Branch Out combines her two favourite activities: research and sports!

October 19, 2015

My summer internship at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute has passed. During my time as an international student, from Holland, at HBI I was thrown in the deep end multiple times, and crawled back up scratched and bruised.

Most of the experiments in the lab were new for me, and my liberal arts & sciences background didn’t offer me much guidance except being able to throw some fun facts at my colleagues about plate tectonics, the Dutch law or urban planning.

This of course had some consequences; I felt pretty insecure and silly on multiple occasions but after the first few hurdles that feeling was replaced with proudness when I did succeed, and thankfulness for being granted the chance to learn so much new cool stuff!

“The best view comes after the hardest climb” so to say. This is one of my favourite sayings and it is stuck in my head when I’m in the lab trying to make sense of the miniature world of proteins, white blood cells and neurons. But also a motto I carry with me when I’m sweating and grinding gears on my bike after a long day of work.

Someone who probably can relate to this motto is Crystal Phillips, a very inspirational character that I met during my stay in Canada.

Crystal is a former National team speedskater. One day, when she was 19 and rising to the top of Canadian speedskating, she got up with a numbness in her foot. This numbness quickly spread and after only one day she could hardly walk. Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis.

She was determined to fulfill her Olympic dream and learned to walk, bike and skate again. Between some serious relapses she almost managed to place for the 2010 Olympics.

Now she’s founder of the Branch Out Foundation, who aims to support research on various neurological disorders. I was lucky to be able to participate in the Branch Out bike tour, a perfect opportunity for me to bring my two favourite worlds together: research and sports!

You can accomplish a lot more than you think, that’s a big lesson I learned both in my studies and in sports. Science is the perfect world to learn something new every day. And when my head is pounding after a day of studying, I gladly get my bike from the garage. To hurt my legs with as much kilometers as possible on those endless and hilly Canadian roads. And that view of the beautiful Rockies painted in the horizon makes the burning in my legs more than worth it!