Teaching, Inspiring Future Researchers

October 11, 2021 by Elizabeth Quinn

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, the NATA Now blog is highlighting some of NATA’s Hispanic/Latinx athletic training members who are advancing the profession through research.

“What are you interested in researching for your thesis?” asked Jaime (James/Jimmy) Arturo (Arthur) Oñate’s, PhD, ATC, FNATA, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when Oñate was a graduate student.

Unsure of what he wanted to research, he looked to the ground and found his answer.

“The ankle,” Oñate said.

That was the beginning of Oñate’s research journey. Quickly after starting his thesis research, he found it to be a different way to reach the clinical side of athletic training while also advancing the profession.

“Research just gives me more knowledge and expertise in a certain area to help people,” he said. “I realized it was another unique way to give more expert advice.”

As Oñate began his career as a researcher, he started out looking at anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries as well as concussions. Now, his research is focused on the ACL and brain combined to see how the neuroplasticity between the brain and muscular system interact.

Receiving the NATA Research & Education Foundation’s Doctoral Research Grant in 2001, Oñate was then able to kick start his research on augmented feedback and how it reduces jump landing forces.

Along with conducting research, Oñate is also an associate professor at Ohio State University and a high school baseball coach.

“Being a professor allowed me to provide advice and do something different every day to try and help more people in a different fashion,” he said.

Specifically, Oñate has been able to work on his goal as a researcher, which is to break down the barriers and myths of who and what a researcher looks like. As a professor and chair of the Athletic Training Research Agenda (ATRA) Committee, which is now under the NATA Foundation, Oñate has been able to explain to others that there is more to researchers than the stereotypical image.

“I would like people to not think of researchers as people who just sit in a lab,” Oñate said. “We, as researchers, really try to help people, and the methods we use is one route to doing that. We have the clinician and educator mindset. It’s all about how we find the information to make life better. We are all in this together.”

Inspiring Young ATs

The future of the athletic training profession lies in the hands of young ATs who are just beginning their careers. As a professor, Oñate is in a unique position to inspire athletic training students and teach them about research. When Oñate sees students being successful – no matter if they’re undergraduates, graduates, master’s or doctoral students – he said that is his biggest influence.

In Oñate’s student research lab, he introduces undergraduate students to research, provides them mentorship relationships with graduate students and initiates research that can help people.

“In the lab, we have a range of 15 to 20 undergrads,” he said. “We provide a venue for students to ask questions and nurture and grow and develop and see research in order to break down the scary word ‘research’. As researchers and clinicians, all we are really trying to do is help people.”

Research is imperative to the advancement of athletic training, he said, and it takes clinicians and researchers combined to provide the best patient care possible.

“Clinicians need to know they are valuable to researchers,” Oñate said. “They come up with questions valuable to researchers. All ATs want to do is help people, and all research is is a way to help people. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in a lab and everyone has to have a PhD; but to be better, we all need to come together.”

First Generation, First Outspoken

A first-generation Chilean-American, Oñate was never one to speak out about his culture. It wasn’t until a student asked to interview him for 2021’s National Hispanic Heritage Month that he felt compelled to share. When he asked why him, the student said they needed role models to look up to. This made Oñate feel empowered and excited to begin speaking about his culture, background and Chilean influences that made him who he is today.

Oñate’s full names were included in this NATA Now blog because it’s the first time he has seen his Americanized and Latino names together. In the 1970s when he grew up, immigrants were told to fit in, not stand out and assimilate, Oñate said, but now it’s about being loud and proud.

Despite what he was taught as a child, Oñate has found it’s not too late to talk about the importance of his heritage for the athletic training profession.

“I definitely think we need more representation, viewpoints and opportunities [for Latinx ATs],” Oñate said. “I never really put myself out there to talk about Hispanic heritage. I’m getting out of my comfort zone, and we need more people to get out of their comfort zones to do research, show Hispanic students we can do research and be able to give them opportunities. It’s not easy. Getting a PhD and doing research isn’t easy, but it’s doable.”

Oñate’s parents emigrated from Chile and weren’t of high socioeconomic status, but that didn’t stop Oñate from pursuing his dreams.

“People might see me on the outside with the PhD, but I was just like you,” he said.

“I have a motto: one person, one thing each day. Hit one person with one thought or idea once a day for the rest of my life, then I’ve hit multiple people.”