Kaita Okitsu: From sushi to sports

Kevin Key, Contributing Writer

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Kaita Okitsu, known by students as “Kai,” has been an assistant athletic trainer for the University of Dallas athletics department since August 2010. Since then, he has been a familiar, friendly face in the Ed Maher Athletic Center and integral to keeping student athletes on the field and out of the hospital.

KK: Why did you become an athletic trainer? Has it been something that you have wanted to do for a long time?
KO: I never really thought I wanted to be a trainer. I was a sushi chef in Japan and I didn’t think it would take me anywhere. So, I thought, “what do I want to do?” I talked to friends about it, and since I liked sports, I thought this type of education might be what I liked – and it was.

KK: In your experience, how is working for UD athletics unique compared to other schools?
KO: I worked at a high school as a head athletic trainer in Las Vegas while working and studying at grad school at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) for kinesiology. I also worked at the University of Utah and UNLV as an intern and also at some local hospitals and clinics. What makes UD students different is that, at UD, students play sports because they want to; they play because they like it. A lot of students come in to play their sport because they want to play that sport rather than just for UD as a school – the way some athletes may play for big schools such as [the University of Texas] or Notre Dame. Student athletes at UD are pretty appreciative and nice, which is unique. They listen better. The amount of respect that students give me makes me want to work harder for them.

KK: What is your favorite memory from working for UD athletics?
Kai WEB Injuries are always interesting. The daily life itself is quite crazy, so some things don’t surprise me. But travel weekends can be quite adventurous. For example, three years ago, women’s soccer finished a game and left Hendrix back to UD. The bus was having some problems, the driver stopped at a gas station and the driver thought he could fix it himself. Four hours later, it wasn’t fixed, so we couldn’t drive back that night. We got delayed from arriving on campus at 10 p.m. till the next morning at 9 a.m. There are a lot of unpredictable things that we can’t control, which is kind of the norm.

Kai, a native of Yokohama, Japan, has also received a degree in chemical engineering and has been a certified athletic trainer since 2008. Although Kai might have experienced a more lucrative career as an engineer or sushi chef, the student athletes at UD are very glad to have him around to take care of them.

Kai puts an immense amount of effort into trying not only to make sure that athletes are physically fit, but also to make sure that they are doing well in general. Kai is always the first to greet athletes or familiar faces in the gym, all of whom he knows by name and talks to regularly. Even after an athlete is healed, he feels as though it is part of his job to stay communicative with the athletes, constantly chatting and never missing an opportunity to tell a joke or two.

This may be Kai’s greatest asset — while he excels in the field of sports therapy, he maintains a friendly and warm atmosphere in the training room, promoting the best environment possible for athletes and all students at UD.

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