Former sports star gets back in game

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Former sports star gets back in game

At the Sports Medicine Clinic, a physical rehabilitation center at Samsung Medical Center in southeastern Seoul, a towering figure with broad shoulders stands out from the crowd.

Any Korean sports fan, especially those who follow volleyball, would recognize the 2-meter giant as Lee In-koo, 27, who held the left outside hitter position on the Hyundai Capital volleyball team, a professional squad.

In his prime, Mr. Lee was the center of attention among Hyundai Capital fans thanks to his powerful spikes. But most of all fans remembered him for his cool-looking shaved head that could intimidate any opponent.

Mr. Lee has been on the Korean national team from 1997 to 1999.

However, Mr. Lee no longer wears his old jersey: His powerful hands are shoved into the pockets of a white lab coat. A big loss for the world of Korean volleyball on Nov. 29 became a big gain for sports medicine when Mr. Lee started a new life as an athletic trainer.

Mr. Lee helps and gives advice to injured athletes and general paitients on what kinds of exercises are needed to rehabilitate injuries. He schedules paitients' workout hours as well. In the clinic, which is more like a high-tech gym, Mr. Lee moves about pieces of equipment and urges on and guides people through various movements.

Mr. Lee injured his right arm, once his ultimate weapon on the volleyball court, a year ago and underwent surgery. Doctors told him that he should be cautious with his arm, but Mr. Lee returned to the team in March, just months later.

Yet he officially retired from the sport that had been his life since middle school, opting instead for a newfound interest in sports medicine.

"The things I do here at the hospital are not much different from what we do on the side of the court," Mr. Lee says, "and I always had an interest in physical therapy." To better understand his new job and his patients Mr. Lee says that he studies for five or six hours every evening after work on musles, bone structures and how it interact with other body parts.

But even with his fame, getting this position took some serious work. Competition for sports therapy jobs at the hospital runs 12-to-1 for each opening.

Does he miss the court, home to so many triumphs and sorrows? "No, I have no regrets," he says. "I have been on the national team and I have been in the super league. I have been to the top."

"It's a really hard job because you have to stand around all day and there is no time for breaks," he saidwith a sigh.

"When you're an athlete, you get intense training and really long breaks afterward, but this job requires a full-time obligation to the patients."

At the center Mr. Lee is considered as a hard working employee whose apetite for learning new things about physical therapy is astonishing.

"He's only been here for a few weeks and he sill needs to learn more," says Min Ki-suk, 29, another athletic trainer. "But he undoubtedly works hard and we're proud to be joined by a star."

by Lee Ho-jeong

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