From a fairly early age, Kayla Gallo developed a passion for sport. It was kind of a family thing around those parts: Rob (father – LU soccer head coach for 20 years); Megan (sister – LU varsity soccer); Zach (brother – LU varsity soccer).
A little further along, Kayla’s interest in medicine began to flourish, a definite possibility in her mind even as she entered her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at McMaster University more than ten years ago.
Now 29 and living in Ottawa, Gallo is seeing it all come together, currently finishing her fellowship in Sports Medicine and having been exposed to the types of opportunities that make this field such an attraction for young men and women of her ilk.
This past fall, she served as the medical officer for the New Zealand women’s soccer team, co-host to the next FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer in 2023 (along with Australia) and in Canada for a series of friendlies opposite the defending Olympic Gold medal winning team.
The road to this point, for Gallo, has been something of a gradual transition, admittedly envisioning more of a future in pediatrics as she began her medical studies at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay in 2015.
“I never really considered doing sport medicine until my residency,” said Gallo, referring to the summer of 2019 through to summer of 2021 stint that she would spend at Queen’s University in Kingston. “Throughout medical school, I loved pediatrics – and as a type A personality, once you see a goal, you to tend to become a little tunnel visioned.”
“You forget about all of the other potential avenues.”
It wasn’t as though she had far to look for hands-on knowledge of the sport environment.
Throughout her time at Lakehead, Gallo would don the colours of the Thunderwolves’ clan, representing the school in both cross-country and indoor track in all four of her years in northwestern Ontario. To some extent, there was no way for her to avoid an introduction to sport medicine.
“Being the medical student on the team, you often got asked medical questions, even though you are in no way certified,” said Gallo with a smile. “I think that participating in varsity athletics while being in medical school really allowed me to apply some of the medical knowledge for injuries that were happening within the team setting.”
“That piece gets prompted in your brain, creating a thought that maybe there is a way to marry sport and medicine.”
Regardless, athletics and academics were going to be at the forefront of the life of Kayla Gallo throughout the past few years. That much was a given.
“Training (running) all the way through medical school, that’s something I am quite proud of maintaining,” she said. “I value so much of my time in sport, while in medicine, because it gave me this community and this outlet while in a very intensive program.”
It’s a statement that is as true today as it was when Gallo was just a fledgling young athlete at both Ecole St Denis and Collège Notre-Dame.
“I’ve moved six or seven times in the last ten years, but no matter where I’ve ended up, you can always find a running community. Moving somewhere new and finding that community always gave me something to look forward to, outside of medicine.”
“It’s a community of people that have all kinds of jobs, all kinds of life situations – but you have this one mutual interest in common. In residency, just working long hours and dealing with more stress, the mental health component of physical activity is where I had more benefit than the training or competing aspect.”
And as is the case in Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Ottawa as well, finding enjoyable circuits for this outlet is not all that difficult. “One of the nicest routes (in Kingston) was simply running along the waterfront and finishing up at Fort Henry Hill at sundown,” noted Gallo.
Perhaps it was the freedom of mind that comes from those lovely (semi) leisurely jogs in a very picturesque setting that allowed the outgoing young woman the chance to contemplate various courses of action as she gazed into her own personal crystal ball. Whatever the impetus, it would definitely shape her next move.
“When I considered my life goals, there is just so much flexibility within family medicine; you can change your career paths so many different ways,” said Gallo. “There would always be something to pivot to in family medicine.”
By the end of year one of her residency, the clock was ticking. Any consideration towards the pursuit of a sports medicine fellowship required action – quickly. She’s now some six months into said fellowship, one that is administered through the University of Ottawa, but features her involvement both there as well as across town at Carleton University.
This season (2021-2022), Gallo was assigned to work with both the Carleton Ravens men’s soccer team and Ottawa Gee Gees women’s hockey team.
“I think that is one of the best parts of sports medicine, really being integrated into a team, that cohesiveness, helping to build that culture within the team,” she said. “And from a learning opportunity, the environment is just so unpredictable. I’m figuring things out, learning on the fly and working with some incredible people – that’s where the learning opportunity is.”
“But that’s also where the fun is, being with people that are very passionate about sport.”
As things worked out, Gallo was part of a nearly exclusively female staff that worked directly with the New Zealand national women’s soccer team, a benefit that was not lost on her in the least.
“I wouldn’t say that I am tied to a sex specific sport, but I will say that as a female future sports medicine physician, I feel passionate about representing women at the medical staff level in women’s sport.”
The way that things stand, her plan is to integrate both a family medicine and sport medicine component into whatever her practice will look like, come this summer. Through her fellowship, she’s worked alongside women who have enjoyed the chance to be involved with Olympic Games, as well as international and national events at the highest of levels.
There is clearly some appeal in following those footsteps.
“It’s important to always be open to opportunity,” said Gallo. “I’m not actively looking to move, but I’m not turning my eyes and ears off, so to speak.”
Kayla Gallo, the doctor, the athlete, remains alert – and that stands to benefit an awful lot of people in years to come.