When he is not saving goals, Tristan Clemons is trying to save lives, a quest that began after watching a loved one losing the battle to cancer. To the world, Clemons is the unmovable rock manning the Australian goal. Back home, however, his goalkeeping exploits are less known. Even on his LinkedIn page, his hockey career is virtually a footnote. Clemons, instead, is a marriage officiant and designer of flap hats. But he is famous more for his work in the field of science.
Clemons, who celebrated his 30th birthday on Sunday in Bhubaneswar where he is playing the World League Final, is a research scientist at the University of Western Australia where he is working on developing alternate treatments for the cure of cancer. Clemons has also designed nano-particles for cancer therapy, for which he has a patent. “I work for research of nano-particles in drug delivery. It’s really exciting. I am trying at ways to cure cancer. It’s a massive disease and a massive burden on the world health,” Clemons says.
Clemons was introduced to nanotechnology even before he began playing hockey full-time. When he was 16, his mother was reading him a copy of ‘job guide’. She stumbled upon the vocation and Clemons was fascinated. He got his undergraduate degree in chemistry from a Perth-based university and while completing his Diploma in Secondary Education, his research mentor Swaminatha Iyer offered him a chance to complete a PhD at his BioNano laboratory at the University of Western Australia.
He worked on designing nano-particles for drug delivery for, among other things, cancer. Having seen someone close to him suffer, his main aim was to find an alternate to the ‘toxic’ treatment that cancer patients currently undergo. “For me, it’s a bit of a personal story. Everyone has a loved one who’s gone through a battle with cancer, which is very tragic,” he says.
“Currently, we treat cancer with chemo-therapeutics and they are very toxic drugs. They have side-effects on our immune system. People lose hair, they feel nauseous. So I am looking for ways to improve that by improving drug delivery and getting rid of those side-effects.”
While carrying on his research work, Clemons grew into one of Australia’s most sought-after goalkeepers. He made his international debut in October 2011, and has had 42 more appearances since then. He has forged a reputation of being one of the stingiest goalkeepers in the world, although he still plays second-fiddle to Tyler Lovell in the Kookaburra setup.
His growing reputation earned him a contract in this year’s Hockey India League (HIL), where he was signed by Punjab Warriors for $20,000. Clemons came up with match-winning performances on field. Off it, he became – what he calls – a ‘travelling scientist.’
“It’s about promoting science around the world and going to school students about science and exciting them about making a career in chemistry because it’s been a fantastic career for me so far. I want to pass on that excitement to the next generation of scientists,” he says.
On non-match days during his HIL stint, Clemons travelled to several districts and villages across Punjab. He’d done that during personal visits in 2015 and 2016 as well. “I also have a partnership with the Amity Institute in Noida, where I continue working on my nano-particles treatment,” he says.
Shuffling between the lab and hockey field has been tough. But having his research lab and the national hockey training centre in Perth has made it less complicated. Hockey, he says, taught him leadership, teamwork and resilience – the skills he insists are important in a research environment. His research, meanwhile, helped him pay more attention to detail and develop critical thinking. “I am very lucky to have very good people who’ve supported me. They understand how important my hockey is and how my research is so important for me. They allow me to do both things, which is great,” he says.
The enterprising goalkeeper’s interests do not end with hockey and science. Along with his wife, he designs and sells ‘funky flap hats’ which are tested with Australian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Agency for their ultraviolet protection factor, given Australia’s sun problem.
And if this wasn’t enough, he also became a marriage officiant two years ago. It was for a close friend’s wedding and since then, he has gotten 19 couples married. “I thought it would be really nice to be a part of people’s day to have that personal connection with them on their day. It’s fantastic now when we look back at the photos and they see me in the background and say we did that together. It is great,” he says.
Cancer research, however, remains his main focus. “Look, I am all about having a lot of fun. I have a lot of fun when I am on the hockey pitch. I like to have fun when I am at a wedding. And I like to have fun when I am doing my research. If I can make lives better for some of those patients, that’s the time I will be really happy.”