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MUSC Medical Links Charleston Links Archives Catalyst Advertisers Seminars and Events Research Studies Public Relations Research Grants MUSC home page Community Happenings Campus News Applause


Physician swaps white coat for jersey

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
There are moments never to be forgotten. For MUSC nephrologist Juan Carlos Velez, M.D., one of those moments came after scoring a goal in the 75th minute of a World Medical Football Federation soccer game against Korea.
“Playing three games daily was physically tough on all of us,” Velez said. “The experience was awesome especially as we played as a team representing the United States of America.”
USA team mid-fielder Dr. Juan Velez advances the ball during a match at the World Medical Football Federation Championship.

About 250 participants gathered at the annual World Medical Football Federation Championship held in Innsbruck, Austria, July 10 to 17. And like the 2010 FIFA World Cup held this year in South Africa, the event brought soccer players together from all parts of the globe to play a week of soccer and display their athletic prowess. The difference was these players also were physicians.
Velez, assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Nephrology, is a year-round, competitive soccer player. He heard about the championship of soccer-playing physicians with the World Medical Football Championship last year from medical colleague and friend Sammy Becdach, M.D., also a competitive soccer player.
Each summer, the physicians' organization host a competitive soccer tournament that rotates to locations around the world. Heeding his lifelong love for competition and childhood sport, Velez joined the team of 16 Los Angeles-based physicians and specialists. Velez, who has played most of his life on competitive soccer teams, plays for the James Island and Charleston City League and was the only academic physician in the bunch.
“I grew up playing soccer since age 6 and I’ve been playing it ever since,” said Velez, who was born in New Jersey but grew up in Lima, Peru. “In South America and other parts of the world outside of the U.S., soccer is virtually considered a religion.”
The event was founded in 2000 by Spanish physician Ferran Morrell, M.D., who established the championship for medical teams in Barcelona. In 2004 it became part of the Global Congress on Medicine and Health in Sport. Participating teams included Austria, Brazil, Catalonia, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Korea, Lithuania and Sweden. Teams from the USA and Switzerland played for the first time in this year’s event.
Sixteen USA team players, accompanied by a handful of families and friends, journeyed to Innsbruck in early July. The tournament's organization and play mirrored the World Cup format in many ways. The event began with an opening ceremony, each team was introduced and national anthems were played prior to play. Teams played in groups under a round-robin format. Games were 80 minutes of play with two 40-minute halves. Winners advanced to knock-out rounds, while losers played in the consolation round. According to Velez, play was furious and the competition was intense.
The USA team’s debut against host nation, Austria, tied them at the half, but lost 1-3. They tied Switzerland, 0-0. In the consolation round, they lost to Korea, 2-3 and with Lithuania, 1-5. The teams lost five of six games, and had one tie. 
Currently, Velez is working with team organizers to create a non-profit organization to support and sponsor their team and recruit talented players. Locally, he hopes to organize a charity soccer tournament featuring the USA team, where a portion of proceeds benefit the National Kidney Foundation.
“We need the support of others to help raise funds to cover team registration costs, organization with practices, travel and other needs,” Velez said. “We’d like to help fund this through corporate or business sponsorships and other fundraising ideas.”

Friday, Aug. 13, 2010

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