Being a Leader for the Profession Through Service

May 4, 2022 by Beth Sitzler

In honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, the NATA Now blog will highlight some of our Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders at the state, district and national levels throughout May.


When Marissa Fukunaga, EdD, ATC, discovered athletic trainig after being introduced to it by her high school athletic trainer, she knew that’s what she was meant to do.

“All my experiences since then continue to validate my feelings about this profession,” Fukunaga said.
“From the ability to contribute to the physical and mental growth of student athletes to the numerous leadership opportunities available, and just the pure excitement I get to witness and be a part of when a student athlete comes back from the worst injury they’ve ever had – it’s all why I love what I do.”

She credits the athletic training educators and mentors with her inspiration to give back to the profession and serve on various Far West Athletic Trainers’ Association and Hawaii Athletic Trainers’ Association committees.

“Leadership and service are important to me because I am in this profession due to athletic trainers who were leaders and advocates of athletic training [before me],” she said. “[And] a huge reason why I continue to stay involved and why I give back to the profession is that I see the potential impact athletic trainers can have in the world and I want to continue to create environments for us to thrive.”

Keep reading more from Fukunaga as she shares some insight into her journey as a district and state leader.


How did you get involved with giving back to the profession and why?

My undergraduate athletic training program at Chapman University is a huge reason why I continue to be involved and give back to the profession. The program faculty there not only set an expectation for us as students to be as involved as possible, but they also modeled involvement for us by being leaders within our state, district and national organizations. I started as an athletic training student on the District Eight leadership committee as a member, vice chair, secretary and then chair. I also continually advocated for our profession, including attending four years of Hit the Hill to help fight for regulation in California. After graduating, I continued to be involved by seeking opportunities to help with the district annual meeting and clinical symposiums, taking on state committee chair roles, being a preceptor in our state’s only athletic training program and being members on district committees.

A huge reason why I continue to stay involved and why I give back to the profession is that I see the potential impact athletic trainers can have in the world and I want to continue to create environments for us to thrive. I also want to make the profession a better place for future athletic trainers and athletic training students. Someone once told me, “be a part of the change, not a part of the problem,” so as much as I’d like to say that everything in our profession is perfect, we know there’s always room for improvement and I enjoy being able to contribute to that.


Tell us about your current role as a FWATA Secondary Schools Athletic Trainers’ Committee member and advisor to the FWATA Student Leadership Committee.

As an advisor to the Student Leadership Committee, I hope to guide students on their leadership journeys. I also hope to be a mentor to students and be someone they aren’t afraid to come to with any questions they have about the profession, leadership or even life!

As a member of the FWATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee, I hope to assist with communicating with secondary school athletic trainers regarding all of the resources available to them. I also want to contribute to improving our profession by making it better and easier for secondary school athletic trainers to do their job; hopefully, providing or communicating with them with about resources that may assist with overcoming barriers that are solely in the secondary school setting.


Why is leadership and service important to you?

Leadership and service are important to me because I am in this profession due to athletic trainers who were leaders and advocates of athletic training. If my athletic trainer in high school just did her day-to-day job, and didn’t care to reach out beyond her job description to provide students with opportunities to learn about the profession, I may not know this profession exists. If my undergraduate and graduate athletic training program professors only taught the content for us to merely pass the BOC certification exam and were never leaders at the state, district or national level, I may not have kept interest in athletic training in the same capacity. I am a big believer in paying it forward.


How does representation, especially in leadership, impact the profession?

I believe that students and young professionals are more likely to be leaders or be a part of an organization when they see representation in their role models. At the same time, when there is no or little representation, sometimes that could also light a fire for those to join the profession and make a change. Either way, I believe that increasing representation will improve our profession. Not only could it attract more future athletic trainers (which allows more care to be provided in more places), but you also have more brains to contribute to the profession that come from different cultures, backgrounds and upbringings.


Why is it important for ATs to get involved in leadership and service?

Our profession can only grow when there are leaders and athletic trainers who want to help it grow. I think it’s important for athletic trainers who want to be involved to get involved because the more minds there are contributing to a solution, the better the outcome will be. I also believe that you become a better person, clinician and leader when you involve yourself and collaborate with others. I have learned ways to improve my practice as an athletic trainer by being involved in my state, district and national organizations, and I think that’s a benefit some forget; they think that they can’t lead or that they don’t want to be in a leadership position, so what’s the point of being involved?


What words of encouragement would you give to another AT who would like to grow as a leader? 

Don’t be afraid to fail – you can’t be and there’s no such thing as being a perfect leader. My (late) grandfather used to tell us, “You don’t know what you don’t know, you only know what you know.” So, do your best with what you do know so that you can learn about what you don’t, and don’t be afraid of failing because chances are you will still learn a lot and will become a better person, leader and athletic trainer because of the experience.