Treating the Human Before the Athlete

March 18, 2024 by Lydia Hicks
Photo of Haruki Mukohchi, Treating the Human Before the Athlete

This year, the National Athletic Training Month theme, “From Head to Toe,” highlights the whole-body, whole-person care ATs provide their patients. Throughout March, NATA Now is highlighting members from across the settings. These eight ATs, also featured in the March NATA News, are examples of how ATs are advancing the profession through their direct and indirect efforts.


For Haruki Mukohchi, MS, LAT, ATC, “From Head to Toe” is a comprehensive, compassionate health care approach that considers the human before the injury.

“It's a very vulnerable time for the athletes,” said Mukohchi, a minor league athletic trainer with the Arizona Diamondbacks located in Phoenix, about his patients’ injury experience. “We need to still treat the person … before treating the professional athlete. If we can help people play and do their job, that's a great thing.”

Entering his third season with the Diamondbacks, Mukohchi who is originally from Sendai, Japan, has garnered a host of experience in the professional sports setting.

During the 2023 season, he worked with the Hillsboro Hops, a High-A affiliate with the Diamondbacks located in Hillsboro, Oregon, after completing his first year with the Visalia Rawhide, a Low-A affiliate located in Visalia, California, during the 2022 season. Prior to his time with Diamondbacks, Mukohchi spent four years at the University of Rhode Island as both associate athletic trainer and resident athletic trainer. He mainly spent time with the university’s football and baseball programs. Mukohchi earned his bachelor’s degree in sport science from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, in 2015, and earned a master’s degree in athletic training from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts in 2018.

Mukohchi attributes his passion for the professional sports setting to his enthusiasm for people and special interest in high-performance athletes.

“I'm very interested in or curious about helping people,” he said. “That's who I am. I played baseball for 10 years until high school and did high-level performance in professional baseball and I wasn't that good. So, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to help high-performance athletes with the power I have right now.”

Reflecting on the NATM theme, one of the ways Mukohchi serves his patients is with what he calls “the therapeutic protocol.” While overhead injuries occur in baseball, especially in the shoulder and elbow, Mukohchi and his athletic training team not only treat that area of the body, but also expand their focus to the rib cage, core function, pelvic position and other affected areas in the body.

“The No. 1 goal is to make sure the elbow feels better, but we can also prevent further injury,” he said. “For instance, if we only look at the shoulder pain, get the athlete better and back to play, that's good. But maybe rib cage position is contributing to that player’s shoulder pain. If we correct that rib cage position, we may be able to prevent other injuries in the future or maybe contribute to their performance, too, if their body is in a better place.”

One memorable event in Mukohchi’s career that speaks to this approach is his treatment of a fifth-year senior at the University of Rhode Island who had injured his arm at the beginning of the baseball season.

“It was my first year after graduate school,” he said. “I was a resident – part-time athletic trainer – at the University of Rhode Island. That January, I took over the baseball programs, since the previous person left. So, we did everything we could for the athlete. During the last conference tournament in May, he came back and gave probably the best performance in his career. He pitched 10 innings. That was my best moment; my work and his work paid off.”

This year, Mukohchi is not only saving his athletes’ professional futures, but also preserving the AT profession by connecting with his peers within the professional sports and high school settings during NATM.

“I think, for me, connection is a really important part of advocating for our profession, just to keep in touch and exchange our knowledge and our unique part of the setting,” he said. “Each setting has a unique part, whether high school, professional or college. I want to keep those connections as I celebrate National Athletic Training Month.”

When he’s not working with the Diamondbacks, Mukohchi serves the profession by participating with the NATA Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee. 

Having volunteered as EDAC’s District One representative, Mukohchi now serves as a member of the EDAC Speakers Bureau, an NATA member benefit which features a list of diverse thought leaders whose expertise range from AT education to value and worth.

Considering his challenges brought on by the cultural barriers between his background and the United States, Mukohchi pointed to communication as one of the ways he’s been able to achieve success in the profession.

My English got better, but I’m still working on it,” he said. “It's been challenging working and living in a different country, especially now.”

Mukohchi said this experience, along with growing his family in the U.S., has helped to shape his AT career as he is able to resonate with athletes who are going through a similar situation.

“We have a lot of international players, too, from the Dominican Republic, Portugal, Taiwan, etc.,” he said. “I have a feeling of what their challenge is living in the States. When I talk to the Dominican Republic players, we don't share the same language, but we can communicate. They can open up a little bit more to me, and I really appreciate that.”

Mukohchi said one of the greatest lessons in his AT career is communication.

“We have to communicate and make the best plan for players,” he said. “And it all depends on the situation, and I had a lot of lessons. The Diamondbacks sports medicine and performance team put emphasis on communication. We have to communicate and connect so we can have better decision-making. It’s a continuous commitment I have to make.

Another is team spirit.

“Just be a good teammate,” Mukohchi said. “As an athletic trainer even in the secondary school setting, I was by myself, but we had to work with a lot of different people, including coaching staff and administration. It’s the same in professional baseball, too.

For the next generation of athletic trainers, Mukohchi’s advice is to have a goal and never give up.

“Keep looking for the opportunity,” he said. “If you have a sport you want to work with, just keep reaching out to people. Another thing is even if you don’t get the opportunity, that's not failure if you keep searching for it. Keep challenging yourself.

“I was looking for a professional baseball and NFL internship when I was in school. I didn't get any of the internship opportunities. I felt that I let myself down. But you can learn from those periods. ‘What didn’t go well? What could I improve?’ Just keep challenging yourself after you look for those opportunities.”