Civil Engineering Student Competes in the Modern Pentathlon at PanAm 2015

A fourth-place finish qualifies her for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro

Donna Vakalis, a PhD candidate studying the impact of indoor building environments on public health and productivity, competed in the modern pentathlon for Team Canada.

The sport includes competition in fencing, swimming, show jumping, and running and shooting. Vakalis won the running and shooting combined event to place fourth overall; qualifying her for the Olympic Games.

“We look forward to cheering on Donna at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games,” said Prof. Brent Sleep, chair of Civil Engineering.

Before the TO2015 Games, Vakalis commented on how being an engineer affects her life as an athlete.

“There are so many connections for athletes to think analogically,” said Vakalis. “For example, an athlete can start to see connections between the structural properties of materials and the way the body works.”

Recovering from an injury earlier this year, Vakalis said her engineering studies were helpful for understanding the mechanics of the body in order to heal smarter and faster. Vakalis also believes the skills she gained in competition will benefit her academic career.

“Being a pentathlete who has to execute moves perfectly when an Olympic berth will be on the line, it helps to be able to think clearly under tremendous pressure,” said Vakalis. “That’s helpful for standing up and teaching a class, or being able to answer a challenging question in front of your thesis defence committee.”