Hero in a White Coat



Published:

Mary Vacala with the Olympic team before the opening ceremony.

Savannah native's passion to help others has extended to the Olympics where she's been golden.

Do you know the difference between an Olympic athlete and a Paralympic athlete? The answer is not as obvious as you might think. “The difference [between Olympians and Paralympians] is how they get out of the bed in the morning,” said Mary Vacala, a local Savannah physician’s assistant (PA) and Olympic athletic trainer for over 37 years. “Once [Paralympic athletes] get out of bed, they have to walk to their legs or get in their wheelchairs. But they train just as hard, if not harder than Olympic athletes, and they do not take anything for granted.” Vacala recently returned home from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio after serving as the head athletic trainer of the U.S. Paralympic men’s basketball team for four years. Her team of Paralympians took home the gold medal, and to say she is proud does not do it justice.

 

Mary Vacala with the Olympic team posing with the gold.

“By far winning that gold medal – there’s nothing like it,” Vacala said. “Everybody wants to win gold. But getting there is certainly not easy.” With a pedigree and career as lengthy and impressive as Vacala’s, the proof of her Olympic success is in her professional pudding. She has four degrees: two Bachelor’s degrees in Health and Athletic Training and Medical Science, and two Masters Degrees in Exercise Physiology and Physician’s Assistance. Vacala is a full-time PA at Chatham Orthopaedic Associates and also a part-owner and PA at Urgent Care of Berwick, both in Savannah. And she has volunteered as an athletic trainer for 37 years – yes, that is a volunteer position, but one in which she is honored to serve.

"By far winning that gold medal – there’s nothing like it. Everybody wants to win gold. But getting there is certainly not easy."

Her Olympic career began in 1993 when she joined the U.S. Olympic committee as an athletic training volunteer for the USA cycling team during the Olympic festival. And from there her involvement only increased. She was heavily involved in the planning of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, traveling to the city every other Wednesday and co-authoring the medical guide for the Olympic Games that year. She also managed the eight different events that took place in the World Congress Center, a hub for Olympic activity during the Atlanta games.

 

Left: Mary Vacala and Trey. Right: Vacala during pre event prep.

 

After the Atlanta Olympics, Vacala traveled for a year with the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team as their athletic trainer, helping those athletes prepare for their competitions and work through any injuries they had. “I waited for my invitation to Sydney [with the U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team], but the invitation was actually for the Sydney Paralympics with the U.S. women’s Paralympic basketball team,” Vacala said. And for Vacala, the experience was eye-opening. “It was my first time working with a Paralympic sport, and I was in awe of these athletes,” she said. “It was a whole new arena of injuries and medical problems, and I had to learn a lot really quickly. But it was amazing educational experience for me, and I knew that this was a new area of athletics that I wanted to be a part of. I felt like these athletes were neglected and I needed to help.”

To read the full article, subscribe now or pick up the December/January issue of South Magazine.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

South's Greatest Photographers 2018

We're looking for the greatest, most creative photographers. If that is you, or you know of any, don't hesitate to nominate!

South's Greatest Kids Contest 2017

When it comes to cute, the kids of the South are all way above average! Share the cuteness and nominate your kids today.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Events Calendar

  • Charleston Cars & Coffee

    Jun 17, 2017
    7:30 AM - 10:00 AM @ Mount Pleasant Towne Centre

    7:30am - 10:00am  FREE ADMISSION  Mount Pleasant Towne Centre,1712 Towne Centre Way,Mt Pleasant, SC 29464,USA A bunch of car and...

  • Charleston Farmers Market

    Jun 17, 2017
    8:00 AM - 2:00 PM @ Marion Square

    8:00am - 2:00pm  FREE ADMISSION  Marion Square,329 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403,USA Join us every Saturday in beautiful Marion...

  • Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection

    Oct 13, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Telfair Academy

    When the world gets urban, the South gets Southern. That’s one way to sum up Scenic Impressions: Southern Paintings from the Johnson Collection,...

  • Rodin: The Human Experience

    Aug 07, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Rodin: The Human Experience presents a selection of 32 figures in bronze by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the French sculptor who left behind 19th...

  • Kirk Varnedoe: In the Middle at the Modern

    Sep 22, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Can you have an art exhibition without any artworks? Is a curator an artist? Who or what decides an object’s value? Through the lens of an art...

  • #art912, Avanguardia

    Nov 17, 2017
    10:00 AM - 5:00 PM @ Jepson Center

    Avanguardia, an exhibition by Savannah-based artist Lisa D. Watson (American, b. 1967), explores the encroachment of the constructed environment on...

  • Christmas at Callanwolde

    Nov 24, 2017
    12:00 PM - 8:00 PM

    12pm-8pm 980 Briarcliff Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30306 $10  Adult $8  Seniors (65+) $8  Students (with valid I.D.) $8...

  • The Candy Apple Happy Hour

    Jun 13, 2017
    3:00 PM @ The Candy Apple Cafe

    Repeats every day until Sun Jun 18 2017  11 am Cocktail Artist Series The restaurant will serve cocktails inspired by select Broadway...

  • Party at the Point!

    Jun 16, 2017
    5:30 PM - 9:00 PM @ Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina

    5:30pm-9:00pm  Charleston Harbor Resort,20 Patriots Point Road,Mount Pleasant, SC 29464,USA COST: $7 Join us every Friday at the Charleston...

  • Christmas PJS/Lights Fun Run

    Dec 12, 2017
    6:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ Fleet Feet Sports

    Come be a part in this festive fun run! For more info visit fleetfeetsavannah.com

  • ALJ Monday Night Ceramics

    Jun 12, 2017
    6:00 PM

    Students will learn how to build ceramic sculptures as well as hand crafting with various techniques in form and technique $60 for 4 sessions, $80...

  • "A Christmas Tradition" @ The Savannah Theatre

    Nov 23, 2017
    8:00 PM @ The Savannah Theatre

    222 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401 8:00pm on Tuesdays- Saturdays, 4:00pm on Saturday and Sundays Admission- $40 for adults and $20 for children...

  • "Rodin: The Human Experience"

    Sep 01, 2017
    All Day @ Jepson Center

    Rodin: The Human Experience presents a selection of 32 figures in bronze by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the legendary French sculptor whose...

  • Jacob Lawrence, Lines of Influence at SCAD Museum of Art

    Sep 07, 2017
    All Day @ SCAD Museum of Art

    Jacob Lawrence Lines of Influence Sept. 7, 2017 - Feb. 4, 2018 The SCAD Museum of Art and the Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence...

  • The Dove Street Festival of Lights @ Shelter Cove

    Dec 01, 2017
    All Day

    6:00pm-10:00pm 40 Shelter Cove Ln, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928 FREE ADMISSION Every night from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4, visitors can explore...

  • Harbour Town Lights- HHI

    Nov 24, 2017
    All Day @  The Sea Pines Resorts’ Harbour Town

    Harbour Town Lights- HHI Enjoy the Harbour Town Lights, Nov. 24, 2017-Jan. 1, 2018 in The Sea Pines Resorts’ Harbour Town. Stroll along...

  • Martial Arts Kung Fu for Kids

    Jun 12, 2017
    4:00 PM @ Atlantic Warriors Wing Chun Kung Fu

    A way for the kids to work hard and laugh hard. It teaches life lessons through physical activity. Atlanticwarriors.org $129 monthly (904)...

  • Chocolate Bar Your Way Class

    Jun 14, 2017
    4:00 PM - 5:00 PM @ Sweet Pete's Candy

    4 pm sweetpetescandy.com Learn the art of old fashioned candy making in one of Sweet Pete’s Candy’s most popular classes. Sweet...

  • ALJ Cartooning and Illustration Classes @ Balis Community center

    Jun 14, 2017
    6:30 PM - 8:30 PM @ Balls Community Center

    Cartooning Illustration Class with William McMahan Wednesdays 6:30pm-8:30pm and/or Saturdays Noon-2:30pm • Ages 12 - Adult • All...

  • Anything Flows Yoga Class

    Jun 15, 2017
    7:00 PM @ Dragon Dance Yoga

    7 pm Anything Flows Yoga Class Walk in rate: $14 Dragon Dance Yoga This class will take you beyond your comfort zone while still...


Show More...

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Scenes of the South

Oyster Roast for a Reason

Lip Syncing with Ghost Coast

One epic battle took place on Halloween night, and it all went down at Ghost Coast Distillery in Savannah. Visitors wore their funniest (and scariest!) costumes for the 2017 Halloween event. Many donned costumes that portrayed the singer they would be on stage during the lip sync battle.

Savannah Children's Book Festival 2017

This Saturday brought thousands of visitors to Forsyth Park for the annual Savannah Children's Book Festival. Hosted by the Live Oak Public Libraries, the day-long event showcased the talents of eleven featured authors and thirty-nine indie authors, illustrators, and performing artists from around the country. This year’s festival includes book signings and readings, arts and crafts, community partners and nonprofit organizations, as well as food.

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!

Thursday night was the night to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day at 39 Rue De Jean in Savannah! The arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau symbolizes the official end of this year’s growing season. Harvest is complete and vintners—especially in France—are ready to celebrate the completion of the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine that is annually released on the third Thursday in November. Nouveau wine undergoes a very short fermentation process, and yields an extremely fresh and fruity wine. Attendees enjoyed heavy hors d’oeuvres, an oyster roast outside on the patio, and Henry Fessy Beaujolais Nouveau.

Taste of Savannah Food and Wine Festival 2017

This signature, festival event was a huge hit at its new location, the Georgia State Railroad Museum! Guests wandered the grounds savoring hundreds of wines, spirits, craft beers and more.

13 Secrets Jewelry One-Year Anniversary

Boutique owners Chad and Manu celebrated the one-year anniversary of 13 Secrets Thursday, Nov. 9. Event highlights included gourmet appetizers by local chefs, a wine tasting, door prizes and great networking opportunities! Here's to another great year!

Celebrity Chef Dinner

A night featuring dishes by some of the South's best, James Beard Awarded, Chef's of 2017. The night included multiple courses, each paired with the perfect wine to complement the flavors. Simply put - a dinner one will not soon forget!

Telfair Masquerade Ball 2017

Telfair's annual masquerade ball was once again one of the best events of the year! Party-goers donned masks, suits and ball gowns and danced the night away. Libations were flowing, appetizers were aplenty, and the DJ had everyone on the dance floor movin' and groovin'.

Pride Festival Savannah 2017

Downtown Savannah was colored rainbow Saturday Oct. 28 for the 2017 Pride Festival. People from all over the community came out to celebrate equality and love. The family-friendly event included live performances and entertainment.

Buy Local Savannah at Cohen's Retreat

The final Buy Local luncheon of the year kicked off on Thursday to a large crowd, plenty of delicious food, and great speakers. Many guests were in attendance and enjoyed listening to Jeff Kmiec, the general manager of the Desoto Hotel in Savannah, speak about the importance that the Desoto is placing on sourcing locally whenever possible, and how it helps both the business and the local community.