School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Laura Callender

MSc. in Physical Activity Epidemiology

Kaziwa Salih

Laura Callender

“The harder I work, the luckier I get”

by Natalia Mukhina, October 2017

At 8:30 AM on most days, MSc. student Laura Callender is already in the lab, where she examines the role of physical activity on the health of children and youth under the supervision of Dr. Ian Janssen. Late in the afternoon, Callender – also a captain of the Gaels women’s soccer team – goes to soccer practice and stays afterwards to do some free kicks and shooting. Later, at night, doing homework and reading before going to bed complete her regular day.

“I love both these parts of myself,” says Callender. The opportunity to combine research and sport allows her to enjoy the full scope of life. “Queen’s is an amazing place for student-athletes. It is such a perfect fit academically and athletically and a really tight knit community. I am really happy to be here.”

We met shortly after Callender’s return from Taipei City, Taiwan, where she represented Team Canada at the 2017 Summer World University Games. Known as Universiade, this prestigious international multi-sport event was established by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). It is the leading competition for university athletes.

“After a strong 2016 season with the Gaels, I was invited to try out at the national level,” she says. “No words can express how excited and honored I felt when realized that I will compete in Taipei alongside other players from all over the country.”

Callender came to soccer by chance. She started doing rhythmic gymnastics with her sister and eventually switched to soccer because her best friend played it. “I just wanted to be on her team. I did a tryout for the competitive team when I was 9. Then, I joined a high-level team, made a provincial team a few years later, and ended up playing at Queen’s,” she recalls, smiling.

The current season is her 6th year on the women’s soccer team. Callender played for the Gaels during her undergrad at Queen’s while completing the bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, and continued in graduate school. “I had an excellent first year with the team in 2012, reaching the National Championship game,” Callender says.

But then, unfortunately, everything changed dramatically. Laura tore a ligament in her knee and was not able to play, requiring surgery and a long rehabilitation time.

“It was the first major setback I had in my life. Being so much focused on soccer and not being able to play… It was really tough. On the bright side, it taught me a lot of perseverance and eventually made me stronger. Any setback now seems minor,” she explains.

As for the Summer Universiade, Callender describes her time in Taipei as a unique experience in practicing international soccer and realizing how to improve her performance further. “We eventually came in 8th place, which was a little disappointing, seeing as our goal was to make the podium. But there is a saying I like, ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get.’ I believe that a lot of luck comes from working harder and smarter. With my Queen’s team, we focus on what we can control and continue working every day. It is the best tactics, I guess.”

The ability to see benefits in hardship helps Callender get more things done and stay positive. It is tricky to balance grad school and soccer, “but I think this makes me a more organized person,” she argues and adds that her athletic experience strengthened her love of physical activity and this now comes in handy in her current research.

As part of the Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab, Callender is looking at how physical activity and sedentary behaviour influence children’s health. “We have just finished a big study in our lab where we looked at the physical activity patterns of children,” Callender says. “They wore a device that tracked how physically active they were as well as a GPS watch. We could see where they wore them and what they were doing when they were being active.”

She refers to the study “Physical Activity Levels in Kingston Children”, and I immediately felt a strong personal interest in what Laura is talking about: my son participated in this research and was extremely proud to do something “in the name of science.”

“This is a new approach in our field,” Callender continues. A lot of the time, what kids are doing is self-reported. Conversely, the research was an objective measure. The investigators could see kids on the soccer field and knew they were participating in the sports program. And when kids were in the playground after school, Callender & team knew they were playing on their own in an unstructured activity.

What do the preliminary findings show? “A lot of people think that kids don’t participate in enough organized sports like soccer practice or dance classes. But from what we have seen, we need to encourage kids to get outside and play more on their own. It doesn’t have to be an organized activity or something that parents should pay for. Just getting kids outside playing tag on the playground on their own, and cardio-metabolic risk factors will decrease”.

Thinking forward on her career, Callender wants to stay focused on physical activity in children. “I was fortunate to have coaches who encouraged us to play because we liked it. They taught us to love the physical activity regardless of whether it was competition or just practice to increase our health and have fun. That is the right message.” 

Laura Callender soccer team Laura Callender playing soccer