Donna Vakalis

" My advise to new pentathletes is stick with it. This is a sport that rewards patience. "

" What is also becoming more and more obvious to me over the years is the importance of friendships and community bonds in finding so-called ‘personal’ success. "

Personal Background

Sport-Related Background

  • National team
    member since: 2009
  • Club: Toronto Fencing Club/ University of Toronto Track Club
  • Head coach: John Hawes
  • Swim coach: Byron MacDonald, Linda Kiefer and John Hawes
  • Run coach: Ross Ristuccia & Nicole Stevenson
  • Shooting coach: John Hawes
  • Riding coach:Rick Maynard (Camps and in competition)
  • Fencing coach: Samuel Gallagher-Pelletier
  • UIPM Profile: click here

Interview Questions

How often do you train (per week or month)?

Fence: 4 x per week, Swim: 5 x per week, Ride: 2 x per month, Run: 5 x per week, Shoot: 4 x per week

Of the five sports of pentathlon (fencing, swimming, equestrian, shooting and running), which do you consider your best?


What is the toughest aspect of Pentathlon that many people may not recognize?

Having to give up chasing perfection in a single discipline – there are simply not enough hours in the week! It’s about consistency in all of the 5 sports.

When did you got involved in pentathlon and why?

Through Pony Club. I was a competitive swimmer, then rider – it added up to a natural fit for pentathlon.

Do you participate in other sports?

I wish I could, but there is no time anymore. I’d love to get more involved in other sports…

Do you have any pre-competition superstitions (i.e. one athlete always sits in the same seat on the bus on the way to competition, or one always listens to same song)?

I believe you make your own luck.

Are there any awards, prizes, bursaries you have won?

  • Canada Council for the Arts Grant ($16,000 with collaborator Ben Bogart)
  • Multiple Massey College Junior Fellowships and Massey travel grants,
  • Multiple Travel Grants for research in China and Sri Lanka,
  • Multiple Ontario Graduate Scholarships,
  • Miller Thompson Scholarship,
  • Aileen Hatville Scholarship,
  • Gwen George Award for leadership,
  • Rotary Club Award for Community Contribution,
  • Northern Star Award from Environment Canada,
  • Hamilton Civic Pin,
  • NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship – Doctoral

Advice you would give to someone who might be interested in or has just started competing in pentathlon?

Stick with it. This is a sport that rewards patience.

How has being an athlete benefited you (positive effects in your life that you would not have had otherwise)?

I hired a mental coach, Etienne Couture, to work on sport-specific skills; he taught me lessons that continue to improve the way I interact with people everyday. He is more of a life philosopher than a mental coach and yet I never would have met him if I weren’t pursuing high performance sport.

In the moments when I doubt that I want to continue, how do I motivate myself?

I never feel that way. I never doubt. I sometimes feel blocked – like there are real impediments to continuing, but that is different. For example, I feel frustrated that I can’t pay for airfare to a competition. In those moments, I try to look for the more positive angle of the benefits of not attending the competition and look to what I can control in the given situation.

Athlete you admire most? (Past or present)

Athletes who always have a larger view of the world in mind, who are not solely driven by sport, who excel in diverse pursuits, who are compassionate towards others even while striving for individual excellence. Athletes such as Canadian running phenom Nicole Stevenson

Education (are you in high school, trade school, university or have you finished)?

  • Honours Bachelor of Arts and Science – McMaster University (with one semester exchange at University of Newcastle, Australia)
  • Professional Masters in Architecture – University of Toronto.
  • Beginning my PhD at University of Toronto in Fall 2012 in assessing building projects for the impacts on our health and on the environment

What career would you like to pursue or are you currently pursuing?

While training, I have been working in the field of Landscape Architecture at Janet Rosenburg & Associates. I have simultaneously held a variety of teaching and research positions at the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Arts and Design in software design. There always lots to learn and room to create in this field which I love.

Future goals (in sport & or work)?

I would like to contribute to improving the way we design our buildings/built environment – to help us build more sustainably around the world

Do you do any volunteer work?

Yes, but less than I would like to!

Greatest challenge you have faced?

Lack of funds to complete worthwhile projects or goals

What are your hobbies?

Film/video editing, alternative comedy (following not doing!), green building technologies

Who is your biggest fan?

Tara, Bruce and Maya – Tara Norton (ironman triathlete extraordinaire) and Bruce Greenwood (amazing husband to Tara) and Maya (amazing child of Tara and Bruce) have been my biggest supporters. They are so generous that they opened up their home to me for the last 18 months to allow me to put rent money into training costs. And their kindnesses don’t stop there – everyday they are encouraging and supportive in a completely selfless way.

What is your favourite quote?

Too many good ones to choose from…but here is one sport-related quote that I find compelling:
“Style makes a difficult action into a graceful gesture [….]. Style is to be courageous without disorder, to give necessity the appearance of freedom.”
– from What is sport? by Roland Barthes. Translation by Richard Howard.

Favourite book?

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje is maybe my favourite book, but favourite author is by far Michel Houellebecq

Favourite song & or band?

Favourite Band: Belle & Sebastian
Song (for now): You Know What I Mean by The Cults

Favourite movie?

Lost in Translation

Favourite meal?

I love food too much to choose…a good hearty oatmeal in the morning…a good vegetable dish at lunch…any veggie curry dish at dinner…with a glass of fine wine for dessert

Funded in part by:

  • Government of Canada
  • Canadian Olympic Committee
  • CI Investments
  • Dynamic Funds
  • Fidelity
  • National Bank Investments
  • Government of Ontario

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