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U of I Alum Seeks to Combine Athletic Training With Navy Background

Brian Hannibal ’20,’23 began his Vandal journey in 2008. Three years in, he realized he needed some time away from campus to find his true path. The one-time history major thought about his family’s military service and realized he needed to look backwards to move forward.

He served five years in the Navy and came back to Moscow revitalized and focused on his mission – bringing athletic training to the military community. 

“My brothers and I were raised to have a sense of duty and a sense of service,” Hannibal said, noting armed services participation by his family members going back to World War I. “I was originally thinking about the physician assistant program when I first came to U of I but after spending time as a hospital corpsman in the Navy, helping them became my focus.”

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Sport and Health Sciences in 2020, he stayed in Moscow to start the Masters in Athletic Training (MSAT) program, where clinical rotations, and a one-of-a-kind internship opportunity through a Vandal alumnus, proved invaluable.

“Brian’s pursuit of athletic training was born out of his work in the military, which is relatively unusual for our field,” said Matthew Smitley, clinical assistant professor in the MSAT program. “But by blending his skills gained from military service with our MSAT program and time in the ISMaRT Clinic, he is prepared for the special challenges to serve the military community.”

Man in military fatigues standing in front of a red cross.
Brian Hannibal.

Field Duty

While in the Navy, Hannibal gained a lot of experience in dealing with battlefield injuries in military hospitals. Given his interest in physical training, however, he soon turned his attention to a growing trend within the military and first-responder communities – athletic training to prevent, and/or rehabilitate, injuries suffered during service.

I look at my family members who served with a sense of pride. And it’s not just military service – my brother is a firefighter. That’s his path of service. This is mine and I’m ready for that challenge.Brian Hannibal, ’20,’23

“Healthcare and athletic training for “tactical athletes” – police, fire and military – is a rapidly expanding field and is currently very underrepresented,” Smitley said. “Even though there aren’t many people doing this type of care for those communities compared to traditional sports medicine, we were able to find Brian an internship for this very specific opportunity.”

Hannibal was introduced to Daniel Pena ’21, a civilian employee and lead athletic trainer for the Special Warfare Training Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After serving eight years in the Air Force, Pena transitioned his career into physical and occupational therapy for that group.

It’s exactly what Hannibal was looking for. He stayed in New Mexico for two semesters, soaking up every bit of knowledge he could from Pena.

“Military athletic training or physical training activities are similar to regular activities, but with a stronger prehab routine,” he explained, noting it’s easier to recover from injuries if you’re in good shape to begin with. “Military folks are used to battling through injuries but what we wanted to teach them is how to take care of themselves and to learn to manage and listen to their bodies.”

Pena was appreciative of Hannibal’s background, both in the Navy and in U of I’s MSAT program.

“The U of I Movement Sciences program played a significant role in preparing Brian for the athletic training profession,” Pena said. “The training he received there, including exposure to new and novel treatment techniques, really set him apart.”

Matthew Smitley, DAT, AT, ATC, SFMA

Clinical Assistant Professor, Interim Director of Athletic Training Programs

Man wearing sunglasses and headphones underneath helicopter.
Brian Hannibal.

Eyes on the Prize

Pena was impressed enough to offer Hannibal a staff position – an offer he reluctantly refused. After spending a year in the Southwest, it was time for the Rathdrum native to come back to the Inland Northwest.

Hannibal had a busy summer and fall, getting married and taking on a full-time position as assistant athletic trainer in the North Idaho College athletic department.

And although he enjoys his current role at NIC, his focus remains on serving the military community. He communicates regularly with personnel at Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane, hoping for a chance to continue his legacy of service.

“I look at my family members who served with a sense of pride,” he said. “And it’s not just military service – my brother is a firefighter. That’s his path of service. This is mine and I’m ready for that challenge.”

Man treating injury to woman lying on a table.
Brian Hannibal attends to a North Idaho College soccer player.

Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.

Photos courtesy of Brian Hannibal. 

Published in November, 2023.

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