Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

February 14, 2007:

Kala Parker ’95

Pittsburgh rugby player Kala Parker ’95, with the ball, running for a score at the national championship. (Pierre Lynch)

PROFILE—Kala Parker ’95
Bruised and battered for rugby

Three times a week, Kala Parker ’95 streaks up a grassy field with an oblong ball tucked under one arm as a winger on the Pittsburgh women’s rugby team. Since picking up rugby two years ago, Parker has discovered the thrill of a crunching tackle. She never imagined that playing a full-contact sport with no padding could be so much fun.

Parker, a doctor serving as a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, is a lifelong competitive athlete. She found success at track and basketball and was a national collegiate cycling champion at Princeton. When her brother, Warrington Parker ’86, a former Princeton rugby player, suggested she try the sport, she decided she had enough speed and stamina to give it a shot.

She quickly became hooked and won player-of-the-match in her first game. Parker started scheduling her hospital rotations around practices. Her co-workers can’t help but notice the bruises peppering Parker’s body. As a joke, they decorated her office with a digitally altered image of her lying in a hospital bed in a full-body cast, a rugby ball in one bandaged arm, saying “I love rugby!”

“Rugby is totally worth the risk,” says Parker. “My friends think I’m crazy, and that’s OK, because I am. They also see how passionate I am about the game and know I would never give it up.”

Last fall, Parker led the Pittsburgh Angels to a fourth-place finish at nationals. In the opening play of the tournament, Pittsburgh stole the ball and passed out to Parker on the wing. She dashed 80 meters up the field before a lone New Hampshire player attempted to tackle her. Parker threw a stiff-arm to her chest and touched the ball down, earning five points for Pittsburgh. “What a rush!” she says.

As her fellowship comes to an end in July, Parker’s medical career will take her away from her Pittsburgh teammates, but not from the sport. She is looking for a job in San Francisco, where she could play for the women’s contingent of the rugby club her brother leads. P

By Katy Rank

Katy Rank, a freelance writer in Pittsburgh, is working on a book about women’s rugby.