Gabriela Stafford ‘13, Young Alumni Award Recipient 2018
“In my experience, TFS teachers go above and beyond to make sure that students have what they need in order to succeed.”
For University of Toronto psychology research specialist and Varsity Blues track star Gabriela Stafford, running and psychology — her two passions — share common ground. Gabriela would be the first to tell you that an athlete has to be focused. “You have to protect yourself and not be distracted from your goal.” Yet this olympic middle-distance track and field athlete is also deeply committed to helping others and was drawn to psychology for that reason. Finding the right balance between the two careers may not be hard for Gabriela, as she feels the quest for strength — physical and inner strength — connects them. “I want to help people become mentally resilient and strong and, for me, running is about becoming stronger.”
Running may also be in her DNA. Her father, University of Toronto professor Jamie Stafford, was a world-class cross-country runner. Her sister and TFS alumna, Lucia ’16, was a 2016 Junior Pan Am champion in the 1500 metres. Her mother and her maternal aunt and uncle were also competitive in track and field. Gabriela became serious about running in Grade 10, but she has many wonderful memories of TFS off the track as well.
“We had fun,” she laughs. She is thankful for the singing and acting opportunities the music program offered and she speaks highly of her teachers, remembering each one fondly. “In my experience, TFS teachers go above and beyond to make sure that students have what they need in order to succeed.” The school memories she most cherishes, however, are deeply personal. Her mother, Maria Luisa Gardner, TFS Spanish teacher and cross-country/track and field coach, passed away when Gabriela was 13. “I loved visiting my mom in her office and having her as a coach. After she passed, I understood how therapy helps people. I think that’s when I became interested in psychology.”
Always pushing herself on the track, Gabriela, one senses, is really running against herself, to surpass personal bests. The races she cites as her most successful are not always those she won. Although she placed 21st in the over 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in London, England in 2017, Gabriela was happy with her qualifying times and felt focused, strong and calm. Just back from the Commonwealth Games in Australia, the Rio 2016 Olympian is already looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics.
This exemplary TFS alumna has advice for the Class of 2018: “Surround yourself with people who care about you, respect you and want you to succeed. Books and courses alone will not lead you to success. Cultivate relationships.”