Taking Risks: 2 Minutes With Dr. Diala Ammar


Diala Ammar’s journey to North America—and eventually Calgary—began with tennis. Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, her childhood schooling was disrupted by war, so she started playing tennis on the courts near her family’s apartment to pass the time. Her excellence in the sport took her from Lebanon to Huntsville, Texas, where her journey took a different turn.

Today, Diala is an accomplished trauma researcher. Her research has focused on vulnerable populations—mainly individuals who have endured traumatic events (war, post-war, migration, refugees). She holds a PhD in Health and Kinesiology from Texas A&M University.

CRIEC sat down with Diala to talk about how risk-taking has impacted her career.

What was the biggest risk you have taken so far in your life?

Oh, that’s quite easy to answer. I left Lebanon to attend university in Huntsville, Texas to play NCAA Division 1 Tennis on a full scholarship. I had just applied to the university online and sent a video of me playing tennis. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go really when I landed and was picked up at the airport in Houston by my tennis coach. My journey in North America had just begun.

How did that risk pay off?

It definitely paid off as I was able to complete my PhD and transfer my permanent residency paperwork from Syria to New York (at the time there was no Canadian embassy in Lebanon). This risk interconnects with so many opportunities—including being able to sponsor my husband to come to Canada and have us start our careers here in Calgary.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about many things. Take my work, for example—I am very interested in understanding resilience and coping mechanisms across different communities. My PhD work in the U.S. allowed me to explore these concepts.

And, of course, I am also very passionate about sports – I love both the competitiveness and the camaraderie that sports bring out. It is life being played out on the tennis court!

What has driven your career path journey to this point?

My career path has been interesting as I have had to adapt my expertise depending on where I am. It is interesting how expertise and place interact. I had decided to move back to Beirut, Lebanon, after completing my PhD and found it both necessary and relevant that I re-focus my interest to mental health and trauma.

Now that I am in Calgary, I am still focused on trauma and resilience but this place has enabled me to pursue a growing interest in diversity and what different perspectives can bring to the table.

What are your hopes for tomorrow?

Many hopes. I am trying to redefine my career path once again with new challenges and risks to take. I see a huge opportunity in working with diversity as Calgary’s communities are very dynamic and ever changing.  I would like to eventually be involved in policy making and strategic planning of different organizations.

Resiliency and coping. Competitiveness and camaraderie. Expertise and place. I love the challenges life presents.