Shaklee Pure Performance Team member Donna Vakalis is transfixed on her computer screen — a few keystrokes, a pause, a bite of a sandwich with homemade bread. Then her eyes light up with an idea that brings her closer to achieving her PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of Toronto. “I love to learn!” she says with glee.
“I try to keep learning new things that are meaningful, and then align them with all my other activities. In essence, I’m creating a great situation where I’m winning every day.” — Donna Vakalis
Donna, who competed in Rio de Janeiro in the Modern Pentathlon for Canada, is currently immersed in academe with the same fervor she displays in each of the five events in her sport: Swimming, Fencing, Equestrian, Shooting, and Running. Her PhD focuses on how the environment of a building impacts its occupants; specifically, how to design “green schools” that can help the students perform their best. As a student and Teaching Assistant, she certainly has a vested interest in her own research.
Donna flinches a little when people express their utter amazement at the range of her activities: premier athlete, PhD candidate, Teaching Assistant, consultant, bread maker, and community activist for groups such as Clean Air Champions, along with a social life that includes her friends, teammates and Modern Pentathlon competitors around the world. “I just find it deeply satisfying to combine all the elements I enjoy,” explained Donna.
Donna’s winning attitude also makes her a great model of women’s health. “We have seen this interesting progression where the domain of athletics, health and fitness now clearly includes women. So we have a challenge to deal with those health requirements for women’s bodies. I’ve come to realize there’s a tight connection between emotional health and physical health, so I focus on balancing those aspects because virtually all our decisions involve those two elements at once. Also, I’ve become more resilient and more focused on technical aspects of my sport . . . and I’m performing better than ever.”
Of course, not everything is perfect all the time, explained Donna. “We need to realize there are tradeoffs,” she said. “But one reason I appreciate a full schedule is because the intertwining of activities means that our successes can help offset our failures. Several activities can help us see ‘The Big Picture,’ so that we can achieve meaningful things suited to our temperament. That ‘Big Picture’ view has helped me improve in every area.”
“Women’s health isn’t always a cut-and-dry matter,” said Donna, “but understanding that concept can be useful. If there is an aspect of your health that isn’t perfect, you can work to balance it in other areas. There’s no fix-all for every situation, which is another reason I like the confluence or interconnectedness of all my endeavors.”
Donna is also diet-conscious and appreciates Shaklee nutrition and other Shaklee products. “I just keep finding more and more Shaklee products I like,” she said. “I love the Snack Bar when I’m walking home or between events – its’ the right size and provides a little pick-up, and I can run without a heavy feeling. And of course, I love Life-Strip. After a long swim workout, I love using the Enfuselle® Spa Ultra Moisturizing Shea Butter Cream so I don’t feel like a chlorinated, dehydrated swimmer.”
Other Pentathletes freely state that Donna is one of the most well-liked and highly regarded athletes on the circuit, but she bristles at that claim. “I’m just competing in the sport I love, learning new ideas in my studies, and making bread.” A healthy attitude indeed, and as comforting and inviting as the smell of Donna’s fresh baked bread.
A special thanks to Donna Vakalis, Pentathlon National Champion 2006 and Shaklee Pure Performance Team member. Shaklee Life Energizing Shake™ is Donna’s favorite product.