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Athletic Training alum takes career abroad

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Gabe Fife (left), Yvenson Bernard and Keita Shimada (2007 OSU Athletic Training graduate). Gabe, who currently works as an athletic training assistant professor in Korea, says the best advice he would give to current students or young alums is to always follow their dreams – just like he did.

Finding your own route through life can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s a tenet Athletic Training alum Gabe Fife lives by.

It’s something he learned while studying athletic training in the CPHHS, and followed it to become what he says is the first full-time American athletic training assistant professor in Korea.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something that is near and dear to you,” Gabe says.

He first became interested in studying exercise and sport science in high school and completed an athletic training internship with the Portland Timbers and worked with the Oregon State football team. He also spent his childhood competing in taekwondo.

Among his achievements in the sport, he earned his black belt when he was 12, was a five-time Oregon State Champion, a U.S. Open Silver Medalist in 1999, won a silver medal at the 2001 Los Angeles Open, and made it to the quarterfinals in a handful of junior national competitions. He also taught taekwondo for several years alongside his high school coach.

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Gabe (left) and Dr. Greg Whyte, professor of Applied Sport & Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University. Greg recently awarded Gabe with the young investigator award at ICSEMIS in Scotland.

“Through competition preparation, I was exposed to some strenuous exercise regimes that made me begin to seriously consider my future career in taekwondo and how I would make a living,” he says. “I thought I could at least continue through with my interest by studying exercise sport science in college.”

But academics wasn’t his strong suit, and Gabe realized his goal of creating a resistance-training program for young taekwondo athletes wasn’t going to come easily.

He soon contacted Exercise and Sport Science Senior Instructor Gianni Maddalozzo, who agreed to guide him through his high school senior project of developing a resistance-training program for a friend’s younger brothers.

“Dr. Madddalozzo introduced me to reading resistance training articles in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning,” he says. “This is where I first accustomed my eyes to scientific sport science literature.”

Even though his grades didn’t meet Oregon State standards, Gabe continued to push for admittance. Thanks to his successful senior project, he started classes in Fall 2002.

Once a student in the Athletic Training program, Gabe decided to take his studies on the road and study abroad.

“I had the dream of being an athletic trainer for a taekwondo team, but the only official team in the U.S. is the National Team, which is a tough gig to get,” he says. “My next thought was to go to the land of taekwondo – Korea – and look for opportunities to serve as an athletic trainer there.”

He joined the Oregon University System International Exchange Program and studied in Korea for a year. During that time, he studied the Korean language, became fluent after about six months and met his wife.

“I was able to see the state of things for taekwondo teams and realized that a job for an athletic trainer in Korea just didn’t exist,” he says.

Instead of giving up, Gabe turned that situation into an opportunity. After returning to Corvallis to finish school, he immediately began looking for ways to move to Korea.

During his junior year, he was awarded an undergraduate Research and Innovation Scholarship and Creativity Grant and the Mary Alice Wartman Memorial Scholarship to conduct research in Korea with one of his mentors, Rod Harter.

His research project involved surveying methods used by medical personnel to assess head injuries at taekwondo competitions. The project was published in January 2012 in the Archives of Budo.

New beginnings

After gaining that experience, as well as his master’s degree from the University of Delaware, Gabe and his wife decided to create their future together in Korea.

Just before he started working on obtaining his Ph.D. in 2011 at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, Gabe was hired as a full-time Athletic Training assistant professor in Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea.

Gabe says his goal is not simply to improve the safety of taekwondo athletes in Korea, but all athletes.

He’s since won the Young Investigator Award for his poster presentation on head injury biomechanics in boxing and taekwondo at the International Convention on Science, Education & Medicine in Sport, and currently works as an assistant professor of Athletic Training at Chung-Ang University (CAU) in Anseong, South Korea.

“Its my dream and really makes me complete,” he says. “My favorite part is getting to know the students who are passionate about learning athletic training. It is popular, but just like in the U.S., there is only a select few who actually go forward to study it as it is quite a vigorous academic field.”

Gabe teaches three lecture courses in English, including adapted physical education, sports nutrition and introduction to athletic training and two practical resistance-training courses.

“As it is my first semester here, we are in the process of developing coursework that is specifically athletic training-related,” he says. “In addition to my teaching, I am always doing research on injuries in taekwondo and writing manuscripts.”

Gabe says his goal is not simply to improve the safety of taekwondo athletes in Korea, but all athletes.

“Although my main area is injury prevention in sport, especially taekwondo, I do have a strong interest in promoting physical activity, especially among those with disabilities,” he says. “While at OSU, I really enjoyed the adapted physical education course with Dr. Jeff McCubbin, as well as participating in IMPACT. I hope to one day get something going like IMPACT here in Korea.”

Life abroad

Because of Korea’s small size, practicing physical activity in his own life has been fairly easy since his move. Gabe walks to and from his house to the bus stop daily and is able to eat from a bounty of fresh food.

“The best part of Korean culture is how loving and close everyone is,” he says. “Everyone is always concerned with one another’s health, and ensuring that everyone works together to make things happen and ensure happiness among the group.”

Although threats of violence loom over the heads of South Koreans, Gabe says most are numb to what’s going on – but he tries to stay informed of any information that comes by way of the U.S. Embassy.

Gabe plans to stay in Anseong with his wife, their son, Noah, and a baby girl they’re expecting in July while he finishes his Ph.D. He would then like to focus on developing an international athletic training education program recognized by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.

“If I can do this with my colleagues, then our students may one day be able to seek employment in the U.S. or Canada, which could be a great opportunity for Korean students,” he says.

He’s also interested in developing international exchange programs between CAU and U.S. schools, particularly Oregon State.

Gabe says the best advice he would give to current students or young alums is to always follow their dreams – just like he did.

“I surround myself with the people who strive to do their best and make a difference,” he says. “Together, we can do great things.”