By Shinichiro Fukuda, ATC | Tampa Bay Rays
“I want to be an athletic trainer for the professional baseball team.” This was what I thought when I was eighteen years old. I had played baseball for more than ten years in Japan, but I was not good a player. No matter how hard I practiced every day I could not get better than my teammates. I remember my team was going to participate in an elimination tournament; your baseball season is over when you lose. The coach was selecting an eighteen-man roster, this was my senior year season, I wanted to finish strong, I was not chosen. I was so miserable and depressed. I love baseball. I then decided, I just needed to be around the game, I was willing to have a career with a professional baseball team even if I could not play.
After researching, I found out most athletic trainers who were working at the professional sports level held an acupuncture license, especially baseball. Recovery time is the most important factor for playing baseball considering games are played every day during long season. There are 12 professional baseball teams within Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB), and every single team employs at least two acupuncture therapists on a daily basis. Baseball recognizes acupuncture as a great tool and skill for pain management and increasing recovery time. I wanted to be around baseball as a career if not a player so it was obvious to choose the acupuncture field. I attended in Japan, Trident Acupuncture and Sports Medicine School for three years, graduated in 2007.
While I was at Trident, I also studied to be an athletic trainer. Spending precious time with my friends and teachers learning all I could from them. During this journey, I met Kazuhiro Hayakawa. He was the first Japanese Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) for Major League Baseball (MLB) organization. He has been a great mentor for my life, and I have gained proactive behavior from him. He created an opportunity for me to participate in the internship program with the Washington Nationals for Spring Training in 2006. Having such a great experience made me eager to come back to the United States.
I decided to study athletic training in the states, and I wanted to be part of MLB organization as a full time athletic trainer. I had to finish my studies and complete the Japanese boards of acupuncture. I also started to get some information about the United States study abroad program regarding athletic training. It took almost a year to find the school that fulfilled my requirements: quality of athletic training program, tuition, weather, division level, etc. It was not an easy process to choose “one” school out of 400 plus colleges.
I chose Troy University in Troy, Alabama to achieve an athletic training degree. First of all, I had “zero” English when I came to the United States in 2007. I studied only English at the English Second Language (ESL) school for eight months before joining the four-year college. My freshman year, I focused only on my grades not paying any attention to speaking English. I applied at the end of my freshman year to attend the Athletic Training Program for my sophomore year. I knew I needed good grades, which I had. I was extremely nervous about the interview portion of the application process. I did the interview with program chair and staffs and was denied admission to program due to the language barrier. I should have participated in more social activities to make some friends and practiced speaking English. I had to repeat my freshman year, this time I had American friends, increased my American movie watching and made an additional effort to speak/ observe the athletic training room, this is where the staff and student athletes hung out and kept good grades. It was interview time again and my perseverance and patience paid off. Finally, I made it to the Athletic Training (AT) Program in 2010.
Now for my next goal, to work for Troy Trojan baseball program as a student athletic trainer for junior year rotation. It was exhilarating to learn about athletic training even though it was difficult to learn the materials in English. My classmates and teachers helped me throughout the AT program, especially Sean Boland, former assistant ATC for Troy baseball and now associate ATC for University of Georgia Bulldog baseball program. Sean taught me an enormous amount as a teacher, mentor, and friend. I could not have survived my study abroad in the US without help from Sean, my classmates, professors and friends.
Now, I am a full time athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Rays organization. I set my goal when I was eighteen years old and was able to reach my dream job. I am so thankful for where I am, and I love what I do every day. Fortunately, the Rays let me go to acupuncture school, and I will be able to do acupuncture treatment on a daily basis beginning in the 2018 season. In Florida, dry needling is not allowed within the scope of practice. Only a licensed acupuncturist is able to penetrate the skin. In Japan, as mentioned in the beginning, acupuncture in a sports setting is very common. I can finally get closer to an athletic trainer who is working at a Major League Baseball team, as I wanted be when I was eighteen years old. My journey as a baseball athletic trainer will keep it going and going. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the Tampa Bay Rays organization for all their support and understanding.