The (secret) life of a scientist: Tackling more than stem cells

When she's not tackling the work of keeping a lab running smoothly, Beth Kaleta tackles other people for the offensive line of the Boston Militia, an all women's tackle football team and winners of this year's WFA national championship. (Uniform photo: Barry Millman/Threepairs Photography)

Every day, Beth Kaleta comes to her job in George Daley’s laboratory at Children’s Hospital Boston to do the things a lab manager and research technician does: maintain equipment, prep reagents, check inventories, adjust budgets – all the things that keep a stem cell lab running smoothly.

But after work, three or four days a week, she travels to a stadium in Somerville, dons pads and a helmet, and takes her place on the offensive line – as a right guard with the Boston Militia, an all-women’s tackle football team.

In July, Kaleta helped the Militia win the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) national championship. That’s no small feat; the WFA is a professional league, essentially the women’s version of the NFL.

“We play tackle football just like the guys do,” Kaleta says. “It’s been very exciting and very involved. It’s basically another full time job outside of the hospital, just not one that I get paid for. But it’s also a chance for me to play a sport that traditionally has only been for men, and to shine doing it.”

Kaleta’s road to the Militia started as a teenager.  “I was a three-sport athlete, and was interested in playing football since high school, but was always told ‘That’s a men’s sport,’” she recounts. “It wasn’t kosher for women to play football.”

The Easthampton, Mass., native’s chance came after moving to Boston and joining a local flag football league, which she still plays in during her off season. “One of my flag teammates suggested that I attend the Militia’s open tryouts back in December,” she explains. “I wasn’t sure about it, but decided to go for it. I made the first cut of the 80 or so women who tried out, practiced with the team through the winter, and found out in February that I’d made the final cut for the 60-member roster.

“It was only after I started play tackle that I realized that it’s way more awesome of a game,” she laughs. “You can go all out!”

“I really see her work on the field as an extension of her work in the lab, and of her personality,” says Willy Lensch, a senior scientist in the Daley lab who attends many of the Militia’s games. “She’s a total team player in everything.”

When asked what she’s brought from the gridiron to her lab work, Kaleta says, “Realizing that there are people coming from all different cultures, all different walks of life. Everyone has their own mindset and way that they do things. And it’s just a matter of bringing them all to the table and working together as a team to make everything operate properly.”

The 2011 offensive line of the Boston Militia; Kaleta is #99 (front row, seated on the left). (Photo: Barry Millman/Threepairs Photography)

Between her two jobs Kaleta feels like she’s gained two more families. “With this team, we call ourselves a family. And that’s very similar to how my life is in the lab; we call ourselves the Daley family,” she says. “Dr. Daley and the whole lab have been very supportive and excited for me and for the team.”

Kaleta admits she’s gotten some strange looks when she tells people that she plays women’s tackle football. But for her, it’s the realization of a childhood dream.

“I remember as a girl going to professional games and seeing those women and saying, ‘Wow, I want to be like that some day.’ I never would have thought that I would go anywhere with a sport, even though I’m competitive and have played for fun my whole life. But here I am!”

[Ed. Note: The Boston Militia will next hold open tryouts in December. Visit the Militia website to learn more.]