Head athletic trainer Kensei Gibbs steps up to ensure health and safety of Vulcans during pandemic

UH Hilo Athletic Director Patrick Guillen says that while setting up covid protocols has been a team effort, Head Trainer Kensei Gibbs “has really stepped up with so many things” and is worthy of special recognition.

By Emily Burkhart.

Kensei Gibbs with words: #ImuaVulcans and Hawaii Hilo.

In the shadow of the pandemic, the head athletic trainer at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has been exceptionally busy, putting in 60 to 80 hours of work per week to ensure the health and safety of all Vulcan athletes. Kensei Gibbs has been going full steam ahead since the decision to suspend intercollegiate sports competition was handed down this past summer by the Pacific West Conference Executive Board, delivering a blow for student-athletes at UH Hilo.

But this damper does not mean the end of Vulcan sports. Although athletes won’t be competing with other school’s teams this fall, the athletic department has been keeping busy preparing for the return of organized team activities, like workouts, practices, training, strength and conditioning, and access to athletic training facilities and staff, as per local and state guidelines, as soon as can be safely carried out.

Patrick Guillen
Patrick Guillen

Athletic Director Patrick Guillen says that while setting up covid protocols has been a team effort, Gibbs “has really stepped up with so many things” and is worthy of special recognition.

“Kensei is a key contributor to our COVID-19 working group that was created in early summer that was tasked with addressing the safe return to campus and prepare for a safe return to sport for our various programs and student-athletes,” says Guillen.

Gibbs has tirelessly worked in multiple areas, ranging from day-to-day facility management to administrative policy consulting. The constantly changing protocols put out by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) haven’t made things easy for Gibbs, but his flexibility has given him expertise in making continuous adjustments to facility protocol that may or may not hold for the long run.

He has also been advising national organizations like the Pacific West Conference Medical Aspects Committee in creating COVID-19 plans for not only Vulcans but the other member schools in the conference. He’s even extended his expertise to the UH Hilo Physical Distancing Committee to make policy recommendations to the university administration.

“Kensei is an invaluable member of our team here in UH Hilo Athletics and always goes above and beyond in everything that he does,” says Guillen. “It is because of his selflessness and outstanding commitment to our program and students that I am very comfortable in knowing that our student-athletes, coaches and staff are educated, prepared and safe during these extremely challenging and difficult times.”

Gibbs’s proactive leadership has been integral in establishing and maintaining a relationship with Premier Medical Group Hawaiʻi, a statewide network of medical clinics and healthcare practitioners who facilitated two recent COVID-19 testing sites for Vulcan athletes, testing which Guillen says will remain part of UH Hilo’s future protocol.

Kensei Gibbs doing physical therapy with athlete
Kensei Gibbs at work pre-pandemic. Archive photo courtesy UH Hilo Office of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Gibbs was born and raised on Oʻahu and is an alumnus of UH Mānoa. After many years in work that spanned the continental U.S., he began at UH Hilo as an assistant athletic trainer in January of 2012 and was promoted to head athletic trainer in October of 2016. He takes the recognition and praise for his leadership in covid preparedness in stride; working long hours is nothing new for him.

“It’s not very different than when we have games, when we’re here for 12 to 16 hours,” he says. “That’s fine. That’s part of being an athletic trainer. If that’s what your passion is, you’re not going to worry about the hours.”

This can-do attitude is invaluable during the pandemic. Gibbs’s ability to keep on his toes has proved essential to his execution of measures to ensure safety of athletic facilities. He is directly responsible for the placement of COVID-19 signage around the athletic facilities, the installation of all-important hand sanitizing stations, as well as the recommendation and procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for the disinfection of facilities and equipment.

In addition to ensuring that all facility safety standards are met, Gibbs has also collaborated with Guillen on establishing new procedures for athletes’ use of the weight room and gym facilities, proper team practice protocols, as well as forming eventual game day management protocols, all while keeping social distancing in mind.

“I do everything that I possibly can to help ensure that our student athletes, our staff, our coaches, are using the best possible and safest methods so that we can proceed in a very positive manner,” says Gibbs. “It’s always better to be prepared, be ten steps ahead instead of falling back. I always believe in being well-organized and well-prepared for anything.”

Gibbs says the success of the covid protocols is due to the full support of his colleagues.

“We’ve all supported each other, to provide what is needed for each and every student athlete,” he says. “We all try to lend a hand, it doesn’t matter what sport, or what department. The people here make the place. We have something here that is very special that other places don’t have. And I’m very grateful and appreciative of that.”

Gibbs’s hard work inspires his students and colleagues to stay constructive and hopeful. He is a true role model—cool, collected, committed.

“We have to not be so engaged in doubt, risk, and fear,” he says. “We have to be able to understand that we can only control what we can control and do what we can do. Through our camaraderie and working together, we can stay strong, and we can get this done.”


Story by Emily Burkhart, a senior double majoring in English, and Gender and Women’s Studies, at UH Hilo.