Using exercise science as medicine

  • Integrity Blog

Her father is a chemical engineer, her grandfather was an inventor, and her great, great, great, great, great, great, great uncle was a doctor who invented the stethoscope.

Not surprisingly, Sport Integrity Australia's Medical Advisor Laura Lallenec’s love of science was fostered from a young age with school holidays filled with lessons on geology and physics and visits to her father's work sites.

"I grew up loving science," she says. "I always knew I would pursue a career in science."

She contemplated veterinary science, then environmental science before eventually landing on medicine, completing a Batchelor of Science with Honours in Public Health. She then worked at ACT Health as a policy officer before deciding to study medicine. She later completed her specialty training in Sports Medicine.

"I decided I wanted to be in an area of medicine where people are proactive about their health," she says. "I've always loved sport and I've come from a family of people who are active. I played a lot of netball in my youth, including state league and Nationals.”

"With my sporting background, I liked the idea of trying to find an area of medicine that uses exercise as medicine rather than just medication. After some investigation, I discovered sports medicine as a career path."

In sports medicine, she says patients want to get better so they can be more active and return to their sport whether that is an elite athlete or as an everyday recreational athlete or active individual.

Dr Laura Lallenec was the team doctor for the victorious Australia Diamonds World Cup team.

Sport Integrity Australia's Medical Advisor Dr Laura Lallenec (far right, middle row) was the team doctor for the victorious Australian Diamonds World Cup team.

Dr Lallenec joined the agency in January 2022 to provide medical guidance on sport integrity matters such as the use of prohibited substances and methods in sports, safeguarding of children in the sporting environment, as well as for investigations and intelligence matters.

She says the role aligns “perfectly” with her sports medicine background, and her passion for health administration and governance.

"I have always felt strongly about promoting fairness and equality in sport, ensuring a safe place for everyone participating," she says. "I felt that this role was a great opportunity to educate athletes and support personnel working in the field about sport integrity matters and making sure it's a fair playing field for everyone involved."

To that end, Dr Lallenec is currently developing Sport Integrity Australia’s Sports Pharmacy education program as she "feels pharmacists can play a really important role in keeping our athletes safe from potential doping events".

She says she would like to continue to develop her skills in anti-doping medicine.

"I have recently had the opportunity to work within the Commonwealth Games Federation as a medical consultant and use my anti-doping experience from Sport Integrity Australia. I also hope to continue to work as a Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician in elite sport as well as private practice. A dream of mine is to one day be part of the medical team helping athletes at the Olympics and, hopefully as the Diamonds doctor, to one day see netball become an Olympic sport!"

Not surprisingly, her career highlight so far is the 2021 AFL Grand Final which Melbourne won in Perth.

"By then I'd been at the club for five years and worked my way up the ranks from the VFL to AFLW and then to the men's program," she says. "You really invest in the highs and lows of these athletes' careers. It was so nice to see them have success after all these years of working hard through tough times and for it all to come together, and for them to achieve the ultimate success in their career winning an AFL Grand Final."

The victory was even more poignant given the lockdown restrictions the team faced due to COVID, she says.

"We'd been in a final’s hub in Perth due to COVID and had been at Perth living together for five weeks. The players and staff lived day in, day out together, ate all our meals together and after five weeks away from family and friends, to end in such a highlight was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

As to the future, Dr Lallenec says she also hopes to become a leader in anti-doping medicine within the sports medicine community like her mentor, Dr Susan White.

"[Like Dr White] I'm very keen to successfully promote the importance of integrity in sport as well as anti-doping principles to both support personnel, elite athletes and pathway athletes."

Dr Lallenec's Top Tips for Athletes

  1. Never assume something is safe to take. Even when the brand promotes that it is. Remember you have strict liability to what you put in your body as an athlete! 
  2. Supplements do not always list all the ingredients on their label. Always check the Sport Integrity app before taking any medications or supplements and to check whether you require a TUE to take a particular medication. 
  3. Do your research around the medication or supplement you want to take. Utilise experts such as Sports Dietitians and Sport Medicine Doctors, to discuss if you need to take the substance and whether there is a doping risk associated with taking it. 
  4. Reach out to Sport Integrity Australia. Email: substance.enquiries@sportintegrity.gov.au if you are still unsure if a substance is safe to take.

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