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Kinesiology Grad Turns Passion for Soccer Into Research Career

Class of 2024 Grad Ryutaro Ichihara Named Outstanding Graduate Student
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Ryutaro Ichihara first fell in love with sports on the soccer field. 

“Soccer really became the core of my life,” he said. “Growing up in Japan, my dream was to become a professional soccer player.” 

When he was 19 years old, Ichihara moved to the United States, where his love of the game led him to Cal State Fullerton. His plan was to pursue a career in professional sports, but what he didn’t account for was finding something that he loved even more than soccer — research. 

“Professor of Kinesiology John Gleaves helped me to find my path and showed me the possibilities in sports and philosophy,” said the Class of 2024 kinesiology grad. 

Throughout his undergraduate and graduate career at CSUF, Ichihara conducted research on the authenticity of sports in Western culture, and the connections between cerebral palsy and physical activity. He presented his findings at multiple academic conferences and found his purpose in teaching others about sports philosophy. 

For his academic and research excellence, Ichihara was named the Alumni Association’s 2024 Outstanding Graduate Student, an honor that comes with a $1,000 award.

“I was born and raised in Japan, but I was reborn and reraised in the U.S. at Cal State Fullerton,” he said. 

‘Physical Activity Environments Should Be Fit For Everyone’

When Ichihara began working on his thesis in the master’s program, he was inspired by his brother. 

“My brother has cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that disrupts the connection between the brain and limbs,” he explained. “I learned a lot about how he engages in different activities, but not everyone has that experience. I wanted to help people understand how people with cerebral palsy experience physical fitness.” 

For many people, physical activity is a normalized idea, said Ichihara. It’s assumed that everyone can partake in physical fitness to some extent, but these spaces often don’t account for people who have different capabilities.

In his thesis titled, “Towards True Inclusion: Developing a Phenomenology of Physical Activity With Cerebral Palsy,” Ichihara explains that it’s common for people with cerebral palsy to experience an “otherness” in physical activity settings because their participation looks different from able-bodied individuals, which can result in feelings of isolation and frustration and cause a retreat from fitness altogether. 

“I wanted to understand my brother’s experiences, and how they are different from mine,” said Ichihara, who presented this research at the 50th International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Annual Conference. “It’s important to challenge ableist attitudes and expectations because physical activity environments should be fit for everyone.”

To collect his data, Ichihara gathered literature and quotes from individuals with cerebral palsy to understand their unique experiences, emphasizing the importance of increased accommodations and support to make physical activity more accessible and inclusive for people of all capabilities. 

For his research achievements in this area, Ichihara was recognized with the university’s 2024 Giles T. Brown Thesis Excellence Award and received a $500 scholarship. He also won first place at CSUF’s Titan Grand Slam competition and went on to compete at the California State University Grand Slam statewide competition. 

Ryutaro Ichihara practices yoga
Ryutaro Ichihara, Class of 2024 kinesiology grad

“Ryutaro exemplifies the epitome of an exceptional graduate student at Cal State Fullerton, seamlessly intertwining his studies in kinesiology with philosophy to craft a groundbreaking master’s thesis,” said Gleaves. “It truly is a privilege to be part of his journey and to watch him thrive here at CSUF.”

Taking on Teaching

During his undergraduate career, Ichihara’s first research project was centered on understanding burnout among young athletes. In Western culture, athletes often feel excessive pressure to “make it” in the sporting industry, he explained.  

Whereas, athletes who embrace Budo, a Japanese samurai cultural belief, place more emphasis on one’s mentality, mind and self-mastery. This makes them more likely to experience sports with authenticity and happiness. Ichihara had the opportunity to present this research at the 2022 International Association for the Philosophy of Sport Conference. 

On campus, Ichihara has continued to let sports and physical activity guide his service, working as an exercise class leader for the Employee Wellness Program and a group fitness instructor and personal trainer in the Student Recreation Center. 

Helping students, faculty and staff reach their fitness goals, Ichihara said he’s found happiness in teaching and seeing others reach their potential. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career as a university professor in sports philosophy, where he can further his research and support students the way his professors supported him. 

“Kinesiology professors Matt Llewellyn and John Gleaves made me realize that I want to be a college professor,” said Ichihara, who also co-founded Aikotoba, a language company that helps Japanese people learn English. “They helped me understand the challenges and joys of teaching, and they really gave me a light at the end of this long tunnel after finishing my soccer career. I want to be that person for my students.”

Taylor Arrey