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Tom Archdeacon: Bales embarks on second career — as a doctor


She said her mom has a word for it.

“She calls it synchronicity,” Alison Bales explained Friday. “There’s even a book on it. It’s a concept that has to do with coincidences and how your life lines up.”

But while analytical psychologist Carl Jung penned one book on the subject and British author Arthur Koestler did another, it is Bales — one of the most celebrated basketball players to come out of the Miami Valley — who is living it in extraordinary fashion.

Talk about coincidence:

In mid-March of 2007, the 6-foot-7 Bales — a graduate of Beavercreek High and Duke University — walked onto the stage at the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland’s Public Square for the first round of the WNBA Draft and was chosen by the Indiana Fever, which is based in Indianapolis.

A decade later — almost to the day — she was on the stage of the Apollo Room at the Wright State University Student Union for another draft of sorts. She was joined by 100 other soon-to-be-minted new doctors — all of whom would graduate from WSU’s Boonshoft School of Medicine — for a festive, but high-anxiety affair called Match Day.

“It’s a ceremony where you find out where you’re going to go for your residency,” said Bales, who a few months earlier had interviewed with some 20 medical institutions from across the United States.

“You apply to places you want for your specialty, you go through your interviews and then you rank them. And the programs rank you based on what they want most from the talent pool. Then both lists are fed into a computer that comes up with a match for each candidate.

“It did feel kind of like the WNBA draft. You made a slide (show) with a bunch of pictures with your family and everybody was excited and then you tore open an envelope that told where you’re going.”

She was drafted by the Indiana University School of Medicine and will be going back to Indianapolis. She starts her residency at the VA Center on July 1, and after that will rotate to four other facilities in the city.

To twice earn such select designations, as a pro basketball player, then as a doctor, all by the time she is 32 is extraordinary.

I don’t know if it’s synchronicity, but it is a pretty tall order to pull off.

Then again, Alison Bales always has cast a long shadow.

And that’s not because of her height. It’s due to her towering accomplishments on and off the court.

While she was leading Beavercreek to state titles in 2001 and 2003 and being named a Parade Magazine All-American, she was also going on hospital rounds with her mom, Dr. Mary McCarthy, who was the head of the trauma unit at Miami Valley Hospital and now is chair of the Department of Surgery at WSU’s Boonshoft School of Medicine.

Once at Duke, Bales — who became a 1,000-point career scorer and the No. 3 shot blocker in the nation — led the Blue Devils to the national title game and landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

At the same time she was a double major — biology and cultural anthropology — and participated in the CAPE program (College Athlete Pre-Medical Experience) where she took part in a variety of clinical experiences, including an internship at the university’s Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

As a pro, she played for three WNBA teams — Indiana, Atlanta and Phoenix — and also overseas in Russia, Turkey and France.

In Samsun, Turkey her likeness was on billboards. Playing in Lille, France, she learned French to better communicate. As a Fever player, she was chosen to play in a three-on-three game that included President Barack Obama as a teammate.

And now — as she’s spent the past five years in med school at Wright State — she’s also earned a global medical certificate and did work in Swaziland, where she worked with an NGO to help prevent the spread of HIV, and just recently she was in Cambodia, where she worked at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh.

Bales is not one to toot her own horn, but when I marveled about her two career paths, the world travels and myriad experiences that come with both, all in less than a decade and a half since she left high school, she nodded quietly and finally offered:

“I’ve already gotten to do both things I always wanted to do. It’s really wonderful that that’s how it has worked out.”

Growing up, Alison was influenced by both parents.

Her dad, Charles, had played football at Texas Christian University and was especially supportive of her athletic career. In the early days he was a coach and when she played at Duke he made almost every home game, sometimes driving in for the game, watching and then making the eight-hour trip back home right after.

Bales said when she and her three siblings were young, their mom often took them with her to the hospital on a Sunday and put them in the doctors’ lounge.

“There was juice and doughnuts in there and we’d watch TV and probably wrestle around with each other,” she laughed. “I can’t imagine the other doctors coming in and seeing the four of us in there.

“And afterwards our mom would take us to the Victoria Theater for some kind of series, maybe ballet or some other performing arts. It was our Sunday routine.

“As I got older, I got to go on rounds with her. I went into the OR a couple of times with her in high school. I didn’t get to scrub up, but I did get to see.

“And the more I began to understand about it, the more I was in awe. Everyone listened to every word my mom said. She’d ask a question and everyone would scurry off to do whatever she said. And people asked her questions because she was so knowledgeable.

“I just remember being so proud of her and thinking ‘My mom is amazing! I want to be like that!’ ”

Although she became one of the most highly-recruited prep basketball players in the nation, Alison held onto the doctor dream. That was one reason she chose Duke, where she said she felt she could be a student-athlete with a real emphasis on the student part.

Three years into her pro career she began taking classes at Wright State in the offseason to bolster her resume for medical school.

“Basketball doesn’t live forever and the WNBA doesn’t pay enough where you can retire on (your earnings),” she said. “It’s not like the NBA, so everyone picks something to do. Some stay in basketball, maybe coaching or doing commentary. I had always talked about medicine.”

Then in April 2012, five years into her pro career and with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream — whom she had helped to the league’s title game in 2010 and 2011 — offering another contract, she decided to retire and pursue a medical career.

“It was a really, really tough decision,” she said. “Basketball was a fun life and it was amazing to be able to travel all over the world. And the hardest part was leaving something I knew I was good at.

“I could have played another season, maybe two or three, but I still wanted to go to med school. And if I played one more year, then I’d still have to make the decision a year later.

“Finally I just thought, ‘OK, I’m ready.’ ”

Going to Wright State for med school was the right choice, she said.

She had been away from home — Duke, the pros — for several years and she wanted to be around her family again. She knew med school would be difficult and she could use their support.

She admitted the transition from pro athlete to student again was difficult in the beginning:

“After traveling so much and moving to a different team overseas and here every season, I was living in Beavercreek and studying sometimes 12 hours a day. The first two years of med school you have your lectures at school, but you don’t get to see patients very much and that was hard. The third and fourth years you start to go into the hospitals more and become involved with patients’ care and I really loved that.”

Basketball is demanding physically and medicine is a mental challenge, she said:

“With both there is that sense of accomplishment and the pride at being good at your job. In basketball, everyone cheers and is happy when you win, but it’s not the same kind of fulfillment. It’s still awesome, but it’s a little more superficial than when you are able to affect someone’s life — hopefully for their betterment — whether it’s figuring out what’s going on with them or being involved in a surgery that goes well . You feel like you did something good for that person.”

Bales got her MD degree nine days ago. The graduation ceremony was at the Victoria Theater and for her there was a very special moment.

“When you graduate from medical school you get to be hooded,” she said. “You have your graduate apparel on and they add a hood (over your head). And when there’s another physician in the family, they can hood you. It’s a way of welcoming you into the club. It’s really cool.

“My mom was already on the stage as part of the faculty, so she stood behind me and hooded me.

“I could tell she was just really proud. She had a big smile on her face.”

And now, in less than a month, Bales begins her own medical career.

As for basketball, the last time she played in regular games was in her first two years of medical school.

“I organized pickup games with my med school classmates every week,” she said. “We played at the court in the student union every Monday after class.”

With that, she started to laugh:

“I remember the first day we played. It was all guys and just one other woman. And one of the guys says, ‘OK, you two girls can just guard each other.’

“I said, ‘No! I’ll help you guard that guy. He looks like the best person out here. I’ll take him.’ ”

Alison Bales never has been one to take the easy way.

Synchronicity?

No, that has been how she planned it all along.



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