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ONCE AROUND THE CAMPUS ... Olympics, stinky plant display provide venues for helping hands

By Amy Agronis on August 20, 2004 in University

Before the Olympics, there were the trials ... The track and field athletes competing in the national Olympic trials in Sacramento last month were in the best hands. Over 180 UC Davis Health System employees spent time over the two weeks tending to the Olympic hopefuls. About 10 UC Davis physicians were among them, from disciplines including sports medicine, family practice and obstetrics/gynecology. An additional 30 employees helped out in non-medical capacities, working the entrance gates and hospitality tents.

Athens calls on talents of athletes, academics ... Overall, UC has sent more athletes to the 2004 Olympic Games than many countries, and participants with UC connections won nearly three dozen medals at the 2000 summer games in Sydney. In fact, if UC were a country, its 2,000 medal total would have been exceeded by only six other nations.

A "UC at the Olympics" Web site is available at

At UC Davis, several faculty members have made themselves available to the media to comment on a variety of topics related to the Olympic Games, including nutrition and fitness authority Liz Applegate, who is a consultant for various U.S. Olympic teams; biomechanist David Hawkins, a skeletal-muscle and movement expert whose work at the UC Davis Human Performance Laboratory aims to develop tools and strategies that prevent injury and maximize performance; track and field coach Deanne Vochatzer, who was head coach of the U.S. women's track team at the 1996 games in Atlanta and director of competition for the 2000 track and field trials; Paul Salitsky, a lecturer in exercise biology who studies how individuals can focus on and achieve their goals and is on the Sport Psychology Registry of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and champion speed skater and assistant professor of sports medicine Eric Heiden, who won five individual gold medals in the 1980 winter Olympics and works with the U.S. Olympic Committee as a team physician.

Bringing new life to the 'corpse flower' ... UC Davis plant biologist Ernesto Sandoval thought all was lost when the pollen intended for the blooming Amorphophallus titanum went missing last week. Known as the "corpse flower" for its putrid smell, the briefly blooming plant had only a short window open for pollination. But plant enthusiast Nathan Lang unexpectedly came to the rescue. The Salinas resident, who traveled to Davis to see Tabatha the Titan in her full bloom, overheard Sandoval's distress. Lang piped up. It just so happened he had pollen from a closely related plant stored at home. One long car ride later, Lang had retrieved the pollen, and Sandoval was able to carry on with the pollination -- and perhaps a new hybrid.

Amazing grace ... Thirty-eight years ago, Nikon Sandulyak lost his eyesight in a tragic industrial accident. Now, thanks in part to Mark Mannis, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Opthalmology, he can see again. In June, Mannis performed a rare sight-restoration procedure that involved replacing the Ukraine native's damaged cornea and lens with artificial ones. The day after surgery Sandulyak's bandages were removed, revealing to him a sight he had not seen in 38 years -- his daughter.

A mad, mad world ... This summer's MTV Movie Awards got a little crazy -- or, at least one commercial break did. A 30-second American Legacy Foundation anti-smoking spot that aired during the awards, called "Crazyworld," spotlighted research by UC Davis epidemiologist Bruce Leistikow. The ad depicts a carnival setting in which a magician makes a mother disappear but cannot bring her back again, illustrating Leistikow's findings that hundreds of thousands of American children have lost their mothers or fathers to smoking-related illnesses. In 1994 alone, Leistikow estimates 31,000 youths ages 17 and under were made fatherless, while 12,000 lost their mothers.

University grows in leaps and bounds ... Stories reflecting an increase of salaries of UC administrators during the past 20 years have been in the news this summer. While pay rates have grown, so has the university as a whole. Some figures for comparison: In 1983-84, the total UC Davis budget was $430 million, compared to $2.06 billion in 2003-04. Then, 19,541 students roamed the campus; today, there are 30,229. And faculty and staff have nearly doubled their numbers since 1984 -- from 10,691 to 18,790.

An autograph from an auto legend ... Despite injury, famed NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't let a fan down when he made a pit stop at the UC Davis Medical Center's burn unit July 18. With third-degree burns on 6 percent of his body, the racing star still found time to sign the skateboard that nurse Lisa Girsh rides to work. Though his injuries were non-life threatening, Earnhardt was carried by helicopter from Infineon Raceway in Sonoma to the burn unit, which is among only 58 in the country certified by both the American Burn Association and the American College of Surgeons.

HBO barks, er sings, the vet school's praises ... Even HBO is giving UC Davis some airtime lately. In a recent episode of the acclaimed series "Six Feet Under," a lead character was depicted applying for admission to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. And, from the way UC Davis was mentioned, it seems that the show's writers are aware of what our vet students know all too well -- it's a tough school to get into. The series, which received a Golden Globe nomination for best television drama series this year, features the travails of a family who runs a funeral home.

Good 'old' dad ... If David Letterman is any indication, Americans are worrying less about age when it comes to having offspring. The 56-year-old comedian saw the birth of his first son nine months ago, joining older celebrity dads Larry King, Clint Eastwood and Paul McCartney. They are all part of an increasing trend, according to human development professor Carolyn Aldwin, who was quoted in the media. Americans are marrying later, she says, and so having children later in life. But also at work is a shift toward a less "age-graded" culture that allows older adults to do anything from return to school to start first or second families.

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,