A FEW MINUTES WITH ... Victoria Belancio

Dr. Victoria Belancio of the Tulane Cancer Center talks about growing up in Siberia, her love of the Saints and cheering for Novosibinsk State:

You’re a graduate of Novosibinsk State. How did the football team do last fall and should Tulane consider scheduling them?

Given the fact that there is no American football in Russia, they probably should. They don’t touch the ball with their hands there, so it would be a guaranteed win for Tulane! I’m very excited about the Green Wave’s prospects for the 2013 season, with Joe Montana’s son joining the team this year.

What, if any, sports did you participate in when you were growing up?

Swimming, cross country skiing, basketball, volleyball, basic gymnastics, and track

Do you miss wintertime in Siberia?

NO.

What is your fitness regimen today?

I take the stairs to the eighth floor of my building, where my office is located, as often as I can. I also really enjoy hiking and long walks through various areas of New Orleans — Uptown, Garden District, French Quarter

Who is your favorite athlete of all time and why?

It has changed over the years. When I moved to Louisiana I heard so much from my husband about Pete Maravich. His records on the court, as well as his local connection and his contributions off the court make him a no-brainer.

Who is your favorite current athlete and why?

Roger Federer, for his contributions to the game and how he utilizes his success to make the world a better place. He has elegance, respect and professionalism. Of course, I must also mention my Saints and the impact they have had on our community over the years. I was in the French Quarter when they won the Super Bowl, and the elation and camaraderie that I witnessed among all of the people there was moving and memorable and unmatched by any other sporting event victory that I have lived through.

How much of an Americanized sports fan have you become?

I’m such a rabid fan I need rabies shots! I was at the Liberty Bowl in 1998, when Tulane went undefeated, and at the time, I didn’t have a proper appreciation for what an accomplishment that was, so if I could, I would rewind the clock and go back so that I could really enjoy that moment.

The NFL, NCAA and several other sports organizations are active in bringing attention to supporting breast cancer research and treatment. How important is that to your work?

It is extremely important when organizations that have a tremendous influence on education and awareness of health issues and the potential for science to make an impact put it front and center and make it part of their agenda. With federal funding for research being so difficult to obtain these days, it’s great to see private organizations stepping up to help scientists weather the most difficult time with regard to funding in the history of scientific research. In many ways, sports and science are alike. Both are competitive; both require discipline, commitment and the will to succeed; and both demand participants to be team players. As scientists, we also have our touchdowns and slam dunks; the only difference is we don’t have stadiums of fans to cheer us on.

Girls certainly find few if any barriers to their participating in sports. Is that true in the sciences and why should more girls explore your field?

Yes, it is true in science. Anyone with a curiosity to learn can and should consider pursuing science as a profession. It is an overwhelming joy to be the first person in the world to discover something that was previously unknown. It is rather addictive, whether you’re a man or a woman.

Who are your picks to be in the Women’s Final Four?

OK, so I’m a bit of a rookie with regard to women’s college basketball. However, Notre Dame and Baylor have such records of success, they are most certainly favorites to go far in the tournament. But of course, I’m pulling for Tulane. With an impressive 22-6 record, they’re positioned well to have a successful season. I very much enjoyed meeting Coach Lisa Stockton recently, and we are very proud of her accomplishments as a Tulane coach over the years.

So being a Tulane fan, how is it working with LSU doctors?

Rivalries in sports often get media attention, and that is certainly true in the case of Tulane and LSU. However, I have to mention that following Hurricane Katrina, our scientific colleagues at LSU opened the doors of their laboratories and their homes to welcome myself and other Tulane faculty members with open arms and to give us refuge. I will always be grateful to them for that, sports rivals or not. In fact, in an effort to thank them, I went to a post-Katrina Tulane football game dressed as an LSU Tiger in a Green Wave jersey!

You once spoke at a conference at Lake Placid. Does that place still bring up bad memories for Russians?

It was a devastating loss to all Russians. I did enjoy, though, learning about the U.S. team while in Lake Placid and was extremely impressed with what they accomplished, and that gave the outcome of that game a completely different meaning for me.

Ted Lewis