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A Real Game Changer

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, nfl player and doctor, is living proof that balance is the key to success

By Sabrina Jonas

When Laurent Duvernay-Tardif went down clutching his knee on the football field two years ago, spectators and medics assumed the worst: a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). A common season-stopper for an NFL player, doctors rushed to the scene. But before talk of sending in the back-up guard for the season could ensue, the injured football star chimed in. “No, I’m pretty sure I just sprained my MCL (medial collateral ligament).” He was right. When the Kansas City Chiefs play, doctors are present on more than the sidelines.

Duvernay-Tardif’s professional resume reads like a schoolchild’s aspirations list. The Mont-Saint-Hilaire native not only graduated from McGill University with a medical degree last May, he was drafted to the NFL in 2014 and is entering his sixth season as an offensive guard for the Kansas City Chiefs (pft, child’s play).

You may be inclined to chalk his success up to a “Hail Mary,” but after speaking with him, his triumphs are nothing short of hard-work, tenacity and passion.

“When I first started at McGill, everyone was telling me how hard medical school was and if I wanted to choose medicine, I had to focus 100 per cent on that,” says number 76, MD. But when he quit football to focus on his studies, he noticed a decline in his grades and a void in his life. “I was not able to canalize all my excess energy and I realized I needed football to ground and balance me.” The med student got back on the team and from that point, promised himself he would pursue both careers no matter what.

Duvernay-Tardif was drafted with just a year and a half left of his four-year program. Although his football career ran interference with his medical practice (and vice versa), his coach, supervisors and the Faculty of Medicine at McGill devised a game plan that allowed him to graduate: four months of medical school during the offseason, one more month in the summer and myriad flights. Eight years and a balanced regimen of practice, exams, work-outs and internships later, Duvernay-Tardif got his degree.

For the student-athlete, earning an MD while protecting the QB was predominantly about balance — a model the doctor and football star strives to promote with the Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Foundation. The LDT Foundation encourages young people to get physically active and adopt healthy habits with a goal of promoting the “active student” model. It highlights the importance of striking a balance between studies and sports. “What I want to promote is that you don’t have to necessarily choose one passion over another, like how I didn’t necessarily choose between medicine or football,” says the NFL’s only active MD.

The foundation’s curriculum incorporates sports as well as artistic activities to make sure kids are exposed to multiple pursuits that may become their passion.

Whilst balancing school and sport, the Renaissance man found even-ground. “For me, the two careers really go hand-in-hand,” he says. With a goal of specializing in emergency medicine, the 28-year-old uses his experience on the football field to benefit his medical field of study.

“Say you’re out there in front of 80,000 people and you have one play to make a difference. You have to stay rational and make the logical decision. I feel like it really helps me cope better with the stress of being a physician.”

While swapping shoulder pads for scrubs within days was the most challenging part for Duvernay-Tardif, looking back, he says it’s what kept him grounded. On the field, a team of physicians are there to help optimize his performance. In hospital, he is at the bottom of the food chain and part of a team there to optimize the care of the patient.

“The ‘real people’ I see in hospital remind me that sports are not going to last forever, so you need to have another passion and it needs to be education.” Strive for part brawn and part brain.

While on the subject, it’s time to tackle the elephant in the room (no, not Laurent!). Playing a notoriously dangerous sport known for head injuries may seem paradoxical for a doctor, but Duvernay- Tardif believes he has a role to play in the effort toward change.

“It comes down to changing the technique, the rules, the culture and the support system inside the locker room and also the equipment,” says Duvernay-Tardif, who sits on the NFL Health and Safety Committee. He also works with companies that develop equipment designed to collect head-impact data on the field. This allows the league to monitor those most susceptible to concussions and follow-up with them.

“I try to do the best I can to change the culture about concussions not only as an MD but also as a football player.”

Today, it’s hard to miss the six-foot-five, 321-pound tough guy both in hospital halls and on field frontlines. But when he’s not treating patients, blocking brutes or educating youths, the Montrealer is enjoying food, friends, and family in the city he’s proud to be from.

There will come a day where you might enter a hospital and find yourself entirely in Duvernay-Tardif’s ginormous hands, but that day is a way’s away. The doctor-athlete still has a long way to go in his medical studies and is always looking to improve in both football and medicine. “I know it’s only the beginning of my study in medicine and although I did something very unique, I don’t want to pretend I’m something I’m not,” says Duvernay-Tardif, who is as humble as he is physically imposing.

Duvernay-Tardif, known as the most interesting man in the NFL, knows the league is just the beginning of something for him. “At the end of the day, what you’re going to be doing for most of your life is what you’ve learned in school.” He sees the league as a wonderful adventure and a place that allows him to project the mission of his foundation in which he truly believes.

 

Summer 2019, Vol 11 N°3

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