From ice hockey to life sciences

Yavor Yordanov’s (23) story is both unusual and inspiring. At 18, he arrived in Nijmegen from Bulgaria to pursue a career as an ice hockey goalie. The covid pandemic ended this dream. But he'd also been studying Life Sciences at HAN. Yavor is now more motivated than ever to succeed: not as an ice hockey player, but as an academic. And for a very special reason.

Yavor is working with a microscope in the life sciences lab

Yavor's internship in Milan

It's the end of a long day’s work and Yavor finds himself back in his room in Milan. The Instituto Di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri found a place for him at only minutes walk from the institution. That's where he recently started his internship researching molecular mechanisms of immunoglobulin light chain amyloidosis in C. elegans. “It’s quite common in Italy to be sharing a room with someone, but I got lucky.”

Yavor is dedicated to reach this goal of becoming an academic, and works hard for it. “Basically every day here is long”, he says with a sigh and a smile. “I work from 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, and afterwards I just go home, lay in bed and chill.” 

It’s not that he’s living a completely isolated life. “I do get out in the weekends. I like roller-skating, and there’s a huge community of over 4.000 people here. So every week there are at least a couple hundred people who meet and go skating around the city. Also, I’ve been shopping a couple times already, because well: this is the capital of fashion, right?”

It all started with ice hockey

An important cause for Yavor’s ambition lies in his first year in Nijmegen, 5 years ago. “I first came to the Netherlands mainly for ice hockey. I found out the Bulgarian national coach was in the hall-of-fame of the Nijmegen Devils, and he got in touch with them for me. So I joined the Devils and got an elite sport scholarship for HAN.”

Although Yavor was the 3rd goalie and it was hard for him to earn a chance of playing, he enjoyed being in the team. Especially the celebrations after winning both championships in his 1st year. “We drove through the city on those open-roofed buses, with thousands of people chanting around us. It was amazing.”

Covid and father's illness as turning point

If it wasn’t for the outbreak of covid, he might still have been pursuing his childhood dream of a career as an ice hockey player. But it wasn’t just covid that got in the way. Around the same time, Yavor’s father was diagnosed with brain cancer. 

This forced the 19-year-old Yavor to go back and forth between the Netherlands and Bulgaria. To be with his terminally ill dad in Sofia, while at the same time making sure to contribute to a group project at the HAN on… brain cancer. “I was taking care of my dad, who was passing out in my hands, had frequent seizures, and I had to deal with all of that. Meanwhile I was learning about what caused it. And in fact, I think that helped me accept the situation. Because I knew exactly what was happening.”

Motivation to be the best

Yavor’s father passed away not long after. “At that moment I decided, I’m going to do all I can to be the best at what I do. I’m giving it everything to work and I hope that eventually, I can really help people with my research.”