Hero in a White Coat



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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.”

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Events Calendar

  • Savannah Music Festival

    Mar 23, 2017
    8:00 AM - 10:00 PM @ Savannah

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  • “Rewind” at the Savannah Theatre

    Mar 15, 2017
    8:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Savannah Theatre

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  • Sandfly Women Business Owners Coalition Meeting

    Mar 30, 2017
    8:00 AM - 9:00 AM @ Sandfly Family Dental

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  • NLAWS Produce Opens Grocery Delivery Service, NLAWS Produce@Home

    Mar 30, 2017
    11:30 AM - 1:30 PM @ NLAWS

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  • Walk A Mile in Her Shoes

    Mar 30, 2017
    5:00 PM - 7:00 PM @ Georgia Southern University

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    Mar 30, 2017
    7:30 PM - 9:30 PM @ Former Coastal Empire Fairgrounds

  • Veritas Academy Presents “A Taste of the Classics”

    Mar 31, 2017
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    Participants may choose from one of these restaurants for dinner: The Olde Pink House, Boar’s Head Grill & Tavern, Cha Bella, Vic’s on the...

  • “Those Were the Days”

    Mar 31, 2017
    8:00 PM - 8:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theater

    An upbeat, musical journey of America's greatest songs of the 60s, starring iconic folk music songwriter and performer, William Florian, a former...

  • Blowing Rock Trout Derby

    Apr 01, 2017
    7:30 AM - 4:30 PM @ Broyhill Park

    Celebrate the opening of Trout Season with a tournament for all ages! This long-running event is open to all with no pre-registration. Get out...

  • Beach Yoga

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    8:00 AM - 10:00 AM @ The Sea Pines Resort

    Beach Yoga takes place directly behind the Sea Pines Beach Club. Enjoy beautiful views of ocean beach towel to use as your yoga mat. Reservations...

  • Freshwater Fishing

    Apr 01, 2017
    10:00 AM - 11:30 AM @ The Sea Pines Resort

    Enjoy a relaxing morning by the beautiful lakes of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve while fishing. Supplies provided. Reservations required. Event...

  • A Spring Celebration and Sheep Shearing

    Apr 01, 2017
    10:00 AM - 4:00 PM @ Oatland Island Wildlife Center

    Oatland Island Wildlife Center is having a Spring Celebration and Sheep Shearing on Saturday, April 1, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  The...

  • A Spring Celebration and Sheep Shearing

    Apr 01, 2017
    10:00 AM - 4:00 PM @ Oatland Island Wildlife Center

    Oatland Island Wildlife Center is having a Spring Celebration and Sheep Shearing on Saturday, April 1, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  The...

  • Party in the Pines

    Apr 01, 2017
    4:30 PM - 7:30 PM @ The Sea Pines Resort

    Please join the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Foundation for a family-fun spring event. Proceeds benefit the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. 

  • Poolside Movie

    Apr 01, 2017
    7:30 PM - 10:00 PM @ The Sea Pines Resort

    Enjoy a fun night at the Harbour Town Pool while watching a movie and eating pizza with your family. The pool will be heated. Reservations...

  • Collin’s Barefoot Comedy Club

    Apr 01, 2017
    8:00 PM - 10:00 PM @ Tybee Post Theater

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  • Hilton Head Choral Society Choral Festival

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    12:00 PM - 2:00 PM @ The Sea Pines Resort

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  • Gregg Russell Concert at Sea Pines Resort

    Apr 03, 2017
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  • The Art of Art Quilting Fiber Art on Exhibit from Art Quilters of the Lowcountry

    Apr 04, 2017
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Scenes of the South

A-Town Get Down Music Festival

March of Dimes Shamrock Run

The Savannah community laced up their shoes and kicked off St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Savannah by joining the 24th annual March of Dimes Shamrock Run 5K! Everyone was wearing a costume and even brought out four-legged friends! 100% of the proceeds from the run benefited the mission of the March of Dimes to improve the health of babies through programs of research, community services, education and advocacy.

Greening of the Fountain at Forsyth Park

Hundreds turned out to Forsyth Park on Friday, March 10 to witness the annual Greening of the Fountain event hosted by the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Committee. Conducted for more than thirty years, this popular celebration signals the official kick-off to the Saint Patrick's Day Festivities in Savannah, attracting locals and visitors from around the world to watch the green dye being poured into the historic fountain.

Telfair Modern Lights Ball

This past Saturday, February 25th, guests joined Telfair Museums for their 37th Annual Telfair Ball! The event highlighted Savannah’s social scene, the Telfair Ball was open to Director’s Circle members, and all proceeds benefited Telfair’s exceptional exhibitions, educational programs, and art acquisitions. Guests enjoyed lavish cocktails, live music, exciting auctions, and dazzling lightshows as this illustrious annual gala celebrated Telfair’s vibrant history and supported the future of art and creativity in Savannah.

100 Miles Grand Opening

One Hundred Miles is a nonprofit coastal advocacy organization focused on preserving, protecting and enhancing the 100-mile coast of Georgia. Founded in Brunswick, the group is now expanding to Savannah. This grand opening was free and open to the public, offering food, drinks and live music by Cory Chambers of City Hotel.

Savannah Riverboat 25th Anniversary Cruise

Savannah is a river town, so what better way to get an overview of her harbor and port than to cruise with Savannah Riverboat Cruises? Celebrating their 25th anniversary, the towering red, white and blue traditional riverboats; the Savannah River Queen and Georgia Queen, both dock near the place where General Oglethorpe himself is thought to have landed. With years of experience in the maritime and hospitality industry, owner Captain Jonathan Claughton and his team focus on providing guests with the most unique tours and dining experiences with first-class service!

Jalapeños Grand Opening

There are Jalapeños Mexican Grills all over the Savannah and Pooler area, but now we have our very own right in our backyard! On Wednesday, February 22 Jalapeños celebrated the Grand Opening of their seventh location here in Downtown Savannah on Broughton Street. The staff rang in their new restaurant along with its crowd by cranking out $1 tacos and pouring $1 beers all night. Jalapeños is known for its authentic Mexican cuisine and has been voted Best Mexican Restaurant. Make sure to drop in at any one of their seven locations to enjoy the true taste of Mexico!

Color Vibe 5k

I hope you didn't miss out on on your chance to participate in the happiest 5k on the planet, but, if you did, check out the scenes gallery from this colorful event that is taking the country by color storm! Hundreds of happy souls came out to the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center early in the morning on February 18 to upgrade their normal 5k to this technicolor 5k. Throughout the race runners were blasted with vibrant pigments at every color station along the course. You could feel the aura in the air; there was no question as to why this 5k claimed the name "The Happiest 5k on the Planet". Color Vibe is already selling tickets for their next race, so go to Color Vibe 5k Run to register today!

Soup It Up For Loop It Up Savannah

For almost a decade Loop It Up Savannah has been seamlessly weaving its way through the often hardened exterior of community driven public works projects, evolving into something more akin to a necessity than just a volunteer after school program. The Soup It Up for Loop It Up event on Friday February 17th, 2017 marks the first year of their signature fundraising event, in which local chefs competed for the title of the Golden Soup Bowl while generously raising funds to support Loop It Up Savannah’s programming for local youth and services to local families. “We have so many wonderful partnerships throughout the city that allow us to work with thousands of amazing children and families every year,” affirms Loop It Up's Molly Liberman. “Savannah has really embraced and supported us to grow into the organization we are proud to be --- through partnerships, volunteers and an amazingly generous base of donors.” Still, she persists, there is a lot of growing planned for Loop It Up in 2017. Liberman plans to extend programs into the City Of Savannah Community Centers as well as the Public Library. Adds Liberman, “We are also moving into a new space which will allow us to eventually offer onsite programming. Our goal is to deepen and widen our presence throughout the city. We believe that art and opportunity for bold self expression should be everywhere! Savannah is fortunate to have so many community centers and organizations, and we are proud to bring art into as many of them as we possibly can!”

Savannah Book Festival Opening Author's Party

The Savannah Book Festival Inc. (SBF) is an independent, nonprofit corporation led by a volunteer board of directors. SBF hosts best-selling and emerging authors in special events throughout the year, including a four-day Presidents Day weekend event that features talks by dozens of authors. The Savannah Book Festival is celebrating their 10th Anniversary with a record number of 40 authors scheduled to attend this year's festival starting on Saturday, February 18, which is free and open to the public. Taking place in seven venues around Telfair, Chippewa and Wright Squares, over 10,000 people are estimated to come to hear these well-regarded authors and fascinating new writers talk about their books this year. The opening Authors Party on Friday night at Jenn Library was a private shindig with some of the prominent authors of this year's festival in attendance.