Justin Guldager knew from a young age that he wanted to go into the field of athletic training.
Ironically, it was his own injuries that convinced him of that.
“Back to like fifth grade, I wondered why the bone fractured in my thumb when I was playing basketball,” Guldager said. “I was just curious, like ‘Why did it happen?’ Throughout middle school, I started to be more and more interested in science.”
After a standout career at nearby Willamette High School where he was a two-sport star, he has found a way to continue playing his favorite sport, baseball, competitively while also pursuing his dream job.
A human physiology major entering his junior year at the University of Oregon, Guldager has used his own experiences as an athlete to advance his career as a trainer. He is currently in his first year working with the Oregon football team as an undergraduate assistant.
Guldager split time starting at first base and designated hitter for Oregon’s club baseball team last spring as the Ducks went on to play in the NBCA World Series and finished runner-up to the club team at the University of Nevada, Reno.
After graduating high school, Guldager had offers from local community colleges such as Lane, Clackamas and Mt. Hood to pitch out of the bullpen, but doing so would have halted his progress as a trainer.
He instead made the decision that so many high school athletes struggle with when entering college: Guldager chose to give up the sport he loved and instead enroll at Oregon to begin the university’s human physiology program.
One year away from the game was enough, and Guldager tried out for the club team prior to his sophomore year at Oregon. Guldager was a first-team all-league first baseman his senior year while playing at Willamette, but during American Legion summer baseball, he was used only as a pitcher. The opportunity to hit the ball again was enticing.
“During American Legion, I never hit; I was a pitcher only,” Guldager said. “I got to club baseball and they said they wanted me on the team because I could hit the ball really well. I thought it was really cool that that’s why they wanted me specifically on the team.”
Now a veteran member of the club team, Guldager is juggling the schedule of being an athlete while working 20 to 30 hours per week with the athletic department and taking a rigorous class schedule that include anatomy and physiology classes.
It’s nothing new for Guldager, who served as the de facto team trainer while also working as one of his team’s top pitchers during his last season with the Eugene Challengers American Legion travel club prior to his freshman year of college.
“Other kids carried around bats and balls … he carried around the med kit,” Challengers head coach Josh Riley said. “He taped ankles up and he did a good job at it and knew what he was doing, It was kind of a blessing for us.”
Guldager was in attendance at a Challengers game last summer when a Eugene player suffered a major knee injury in the middle of a game. The Challengers don’t have a full-time trainer, and Guldager ran down from the stands and began to tend to the player and stabilize his knee so the coaches could continue to focus on the game.
“When you talk about why you get into coaching, he’s kind of that model kid that you hope you get to coach,” Riley said.
Guldager’s end goal is to keep young athletes healthy. He wants to help others avoid the same injuries he suffered during his career.
“Right now, I really just want to be able to help people,” Guldager said. “That’s been my goal for awhile; I just want to make sure that other athletes are able to play at their highest level.”
Follow Jarrid Denney on Twitter @jarrid_denney