Meet Sports Therapist Yuichi Sasaki '11

Aug 7, 2020

by Salma Nawlo MBA
Assistant Director of Communications

From Japan to the U.S. and then to Malaysia, Yuichi Sasaki ’11 has come a long way. Growing up, he made sure to always follow his dreams, and in doing so, he was able to prove that anything is possible. Even after a tragic accident, this Moc aims high, and turned a struggle into a positive life-changer.

Where are you originally from?

Nara, Japan.

What was your major? Did you have any minors?

My major was Athletic Training, which is healthcare/sports medicine. I didn’t want to have minor since I was a transfer and the six years student visa, at the time, included the years in grad school. So, in order to graduate on time, I really didn’t want to spend much time on other things.

What inspired your career path?

Unfortunately, I don’t have very inspiring story like a Hollywood movie. Sports occupied the large part of my childhood and I started liking weight training at the age of 14. My drive for sports comes from a negative childhood experience in Japan. People, including my family members, did not believe in me. They wanted me to have an ordinary life, like other kids would have when we grow up. My first inspiration was to just prove other people are wrong. I was not a particularly good athlete but I liked sports and wanted to show that you can be great at it. Becoming sports medical staff or sports science staff became the lifelong goal.

My dream did not come true until I got into the car accident while cycling in Tokyo when I was 20 years old. Instead of pursuing my dream, I was lost in my life. One day, on my way home after school, I t-boned into a van. Luckily, I just lost one of the top front teeth and got some cuts on my face. After I got a new tooth and the scars healed up, I started thinking that this accident could have being much worse and result in potential disabling or fatal injuries(wear a helmet while cycling, everybody!) That was my turning point that made me realize that I must pursue my dream. So, at age of 20, I finally started working on it. Better late than never.

Why did you choose to attend FSC?

The first school I went to was a small private college in Ohio, where I spent three or four semesters. This school was not a good fit for me at all and it got to the point that I had to transfer to keep myself sane. So, I did a school search through the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education website (CAATE) and I found Florida Southern College. I contacted with the program director Sue Stanley-Green who was very welcoming and the students were friendly and motivated!

“The common character of my FSC mentors is that they really care about their students and really wish their students to be successful in their professional and personal lives.”
Yuichi Sasaki

What was your experience with your major at FSC?

In my opinion, the biggest difference from other programs is that FSC’s Athletic Training Education Program its focus is very well-rounded. More than just wanting to focus on certification, professors are looking much further ahead — toward our professional lives. Many programs put their pride in how many students pass the exam each year, and they should. But, at the same time, we have to look into the future. If you want to pass the BOC, then just buy the study guide and learn the strategy to pass the exam. That will do the job. But, becoming successful in the field is a lot harder than that.

On top of helping us to pass the exam, Sue and Dr. Lynch  prepared me to work as an athletic trainer or other types of healthcare providers, including physical therapists, physician’s assistants, and so on. They will set the pathway for us and give us as much hands-on practical experience as possible, such as internships. So, the experience I got in FSC was very valuable as a professional, at least for me.

What professors at FSC did you have the best experience with and why?

At FSC, I met three mentors, all from whom I still seek wisdom, time to time. First mentor is our Athletic Training Education Program Director, Sue Stanley-Green, our Mama-Sue. This lady with a big warm heart is so good at reading student behavior and changing the interaction style. For me, she was a female version of Tony Robins. After a few weeks since the day one, I believe she already figured out how to deal with me and did it accordingly. She challenged me a lot and set me up to the next level. She is quite influential.

Second mentor is Al Green, the legend. He is the leader you want to follow and learn from, especially when it comes to business, organization structure and event planning/operation. I was fortunate enough to learn form him for the entire semester. At that time, even though it was cool, I thought majority of what I learnt from him was not so relevant since I was just a student. But (HUGE BUT), once I started working, it all came back to me. The experience with him is now like a dictionary for me.

Last but not least is Dr. Lynch, an amazing physician who can understand not only sports medicine but also strength & conditioning. He is the man who experienced the international sports warfare during the Cold War era, and I wish I could copy and paste his brain into mine. It was always fun, at least for me, to be in his class because he is very good at deconstructing the complex things into something simpler without losing the essences. Dr. Lynch’s teaching is very influential to this date, especially after working with Paralympic T&F team.

Yuichi Sasaki With the World Championship Logo.

The common character of my FSC mentors is that they really care about their students and really wish their students to be successful in their professional and personal lives. Of course, I had a group of great instructors at as well. Kelly, Meghan, and Kevin, and those who hired me at University of Houston and Missouri State University. Thank you all so much for putting up with me and teaching me a lot.

How do you believe FSC contributed to your success?

I believe it did a lot, but not everything. I have met so many people in different places throughout my career to thank. After finishing the grad school in Missouri State University, I went back to Houston, Texas, where I had had the internship at University of Houston a few years back. At the moment, I was unemployed for two month, which was very scary because I would be deported after 3 months of unemployment. I did not want to go back to Japan, this was not the time for me to go back.

During these two months, thanks to the internship I mentioned above, I still got to do the observation and learn at U of H and their private strength & conditioning facility, where I observed and volunteered for pre-season training of MiLB and MLB players and that actually led me to the job in Tennessee. My mentor at U of H and his friend literally saved my life by providing me with the couch to crush on and food to eat, since I was dead broke and could not pay my rent or groceries. My family also had a tough financial time, so they couldn’t help me.

After submitting over 100 job applications that winter, I eventually got the job offer from Lee University, Cleveland, TN, to work mainly with their baseball team and that ended my unemployment period two weeks before I would have been deported. I always think “what if I did not go to FSC and did not have the internship at U of H?” It is always strange and fun to see how our life twists, turns and unfolds itself in retrospect.

What extracurriculars were you involved in? What were your accomplishments within them?

During FSC, I had two internships; one is with Orlando Predators and another one with University of Houston. I went to Ticketcity Bowl against Penn State during the internship with University of Houston, and that was fun.

What led you to work in Malaysia?

As a foreigner, I could not see the future in my life in the United States. Don’t get me wrong. I love the country and consider her as my second home country, since she gave me the tremendous opportunity and the host family in Orlando, FL. However, I also had to face the reality most of the foreigners have to deal with – legal residence status. So, I made a decision to look outside of the United States, even though I could have stayed at least one more year and half at Lee University before visa renewal.

Once I got the job offer, I was still not sure if I want to go to Malaysia, since I have never been to Southeastern Asia before. On top of it, I didn’t know I would work with Olympic/ Paralympic teams until I got the Skype interview. Job description was not so clear for me at that time and the information was not so readily available online at that time. I even called the Japanese Embassy in Malaysia just to make sure this is the real company! While I’m fighting against those doubts, Dr. Lynch and Sue encouraged me to go there, because that will be the great experience and I am glad that I listened to their advice. Also, I was talking to this Canadian Football League team, but their head athletic therapist gave me the practical and profound life advice to myself. That also gave me the boost to take this opportunity.

Yuichi Sasaki(right) With the current world champion and Rio gold medalist, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli (left)
Yuichi Sasaki(right) With the current world champion and Rio gold medalist, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli (left).

What’s it like living in Malaysia?

Well, it is FUNtastic (fun+fantastic). I am way happier than before. I do what I love to do – orthopedic rehab and Strength & Conditioning. Also, Kuala Lumpur is very convenient, and it is great not to have cold weather anymore too. Basically, it is like I live in Orlando again. This was my first time in Southeast Asia and I enjoy my rather luxurious life that I couldn’t imagine being able to afford when I was in the United States or Japan.

What do you do as a Sports Therapist?

Sports therapist is a very vague term and is different from the one in the U.S. I am more in charge of the Strength & Conditioning (S&C) program for the injured athletes as a part of Return to Play in one-on-one basis as a sports therapist. Also, I help the team programs with S&C coach, based on their needs. I am one of the first professionals to recognize the injury risk and actual injury, just like a certified athletic trainer, and refer the athlete to the appropriate professionals. On top of it, I was assigned as a service team lead. With that position, I coordinate not only the daily medical service for them, but also the sports science service with other specialists, such as team physician, physiotherapist, psychologist, dietitian, physiologist and biomechanist.

What do you like most about your job now?

This is one of the jobs I dreamt of as a kid. I get to work with world top-level competitors in their Paralympic categories. Working with Paralympians is the ultimate challenge for sports medicine clinicians and S&C coaches. It requires you to think outside of the box in terms of physical limitation, intellectual limitation and such. Paralympians amaze me every day. We have three gold medalists and one bronze medalist from Rio 2016. One of them is the 100m sprinter with cerebral palsy, who can sprint 100m in 12 sec.

This job also helps me to learn from sports scientists/S&C coaches from other countries. We have international colors in our program and most of them come from England and Australia. I was so impressed by the knowledge and practice of them.Other skills this job helps me to understand is the international relationship and its business, since I am now a contact person/ translator for the training camp bit campaign between Malaysian Olympic/ Paralympic teams and one of the Japanese cities. (Thank God, the next Olympic is in Japan!)

What does your day look like?

My typical day is like the following. If I am not on the road, I always wake up early, around 5:30 a.m. or at least by 6 am, which is the habit I still keep as a certified athletic trainer in the U.S. (Maybe, some of us will say I wake up late :) ). The work starts at 7:30 and finishes by 5 or 6 pm. The daily routine is quite helpful to keep my mind sick-free.

What are your plans going forward?

To be honest, I do not know yet. I have dreams and goals that I want to achieve in my life but that will come if I work hard enough. I take every day seriously because this is once in the lifetime opportunity for me to improve and learn. I don’t think this kind of opportunity would happen that often to me. I hope we can win more gold medals in Tokyo 2020 now.

What have you learned in the field that may have been different from what you learned while studying?

I have been very fortunate enough to meet and learn from great teachers in my life, including Sue, Al, Dr. Lynch, and those in Missouri State University, the knowledge and experience I gained were all valuable. But, I realized one fraud that only the great teachers can give. That is “they can make their students think what they learn from them is the only way.” With that being said, there is, of course, the difference between classroom/ being a student and being an independent professional. You have to apply what you learn into the real situation in the flexible manner. And, it is always a week or two later until I realize that I had leant how to deal with this challenging situation.

What advice would you give current students or young alumni?

This is tough because I am still pursuing my dream everyday. I really recommend watching Steve Jobs’ commencement speech for Stanford University graduates, if you haven’t done so yet. This speech has lots of great lessons for us, As he said, “if you haven’t found (what you love) yet, keep looking.” Who knows, maybe you will find it overseas.

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