Some Heavy Lifting Helps Alumnus Find His Calling
During his sophomore year of college, Mark E. Lavallee, B.S. '90, M.D. '94, sat in his organic chemistry class next to Bret T. Sobota, B.S. '90, M.D. '94. Throughout the course of this notoriously difficult class, Sobota, a chiseled weightlifter, and Lavallee, an out-of-shape pre-med major, struck up a deal.
"Basically," Lavallee recalls, "I tutored him in organic chemistry and he trained me. I suddenly realized the importance of fitness. I lost weight, got stronger and leaner, and became a strength athlete." Together, Lavallee and Sobota successfully started a student-run gym in the basement of one of the East Halls dorm buildings. Both later graduated together from Penn State College of Medicine. Today, Sobota is an otolaryngologist in Hanover, Pa.
Lavallee had no idea his partnership with Sobota would ultimately lead to his becoming the medical director of the International Weightlifting Federation's Masters World Championships, as well as the team physician, and now, chairman of USA Weightlifting's sports medicine society. He would also go on to serve as a team physician for various other sports' Olympic trials and international competitions—judo, boxing, rowing, kayaking, and whitewater canoeing—roles that have literally taken him around the world.
After 15 years as the founding director of the sports medicine fellowship program for Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Ind., last fall Lavallee returned, with his wife Tara and their two sons, to York, Pa. and the WellSpan York Hospital, where he did his family medicine residency. He is continuing his family medicine and sports medicine practices and launching a sports medicine fellowship program this July modeled after his South Bend program, which he developed into one of the nation's highest ranked fellowships. Of the 31 fellows he trained and mentored there, most are now team physicians for major universities, such as the universities of Notre Dame, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware, and Florida, or for pro sports, such as the NFL's Vikings and the Indy Racing League; three of his graduated fellows are also directing sports medicine fellowship programs of their own.
About starting over at York Hospital, Lavallee explains, "I had achieved my goals in South Bend and wanted to return to the east coast, and I love to build new programs and teach." He hopes to create an educational exchange between his new fellowship program and one also being launched this summer by Matthew L. Silvis, M.D. '02, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's medical director for primary care sports medicine.
Lavallee, whose clinical and research interests include musculoskeletal ultrasound, platelet-rich plasma injections, and the minimally invasive, regenerative medicine F.A.S.T. technique by Tenex Health TX ™, sees commonalities in his patients—whether they are world-class athletes, weekend warriors, or family medicine patients. "Elite athletes have a drive and intensity that is impressive, but just as in my family practice, we have to look at the whole patient, not just at them but at their families and their psychological makeup, too. If we don't address the other issues in their lives, they aren't going to perform well."
To succeed, Lavallee adds, "You can't expect them to trust you just because there's an M.D. at the end of your name. Athletes will gravitate towards you when they realize you know the sport and they can come to you with questions. You also have to remain objective. You want them and their team to do well, but not at the sacrifice of their short- or long-term health."
Many elite athletes have come to Lavallee throughout his career, as he has covered numerous U.S. Olympic trials, been part of the Olympic volunteer medical program since 2005, and was part of the 2011 USOC Pan-American Games medical team in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Even now, he is preparing his cadre of medical volunteer staff to help get the nation's STRONGEST athletes ready for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.