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Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007 | Dr. La Mar Hasbrouck arrived in Guyana three weeks ago from his Atlanta home, assuming his latest role for the Centers for Disease Control. He serves as director of an AIDS relief program in the South American country.
Hasbrouck always has been a willing role player, dating back to his days playing football at San Diego’s Crawford High and in college as a backup defensive back and special teams captain on Cal’s 1987 team.
But this latest role is as a very special team captain.
Hasbrouck heads up a CDC office in Guyana, which is one of 15 countries targeted by President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He works with the U.S. ambassador and Guyana health officials.
Previously, Hasbrouck has been on CDC missions to Nigeria eight times as well as to Namibia, Uganda and Haiti, but this two-year appointment is his first long-term post.
“Nearly 80 percent of HIV/AIDS infected persons have been identified and offered treatment,” Hasbrouck said. “In some respects, identifying the remaining 20 percent, those hard to reach due to geographic isolation, mobility, or denial, will pose the most significant challenge. This will take novel, clever and innovative approaches.”
Hasbrouck, raised by a single mother on G Street in a San Diego inner-city neighborhood, has used sports instead of being used by sports, the plight of too many high school and college athletes that aren’t motivated by schools hindered by financial cutbacks.
“Sports taught me lessons in facing challenges and overcoming adversity,” he said. “You learn to be bigger than your physical self. I’ve always been undersized, but my approach is to use my internal strength that is much larger than my body. This challenge is in the field of health, but it’s still one I want to help confront.”
Hasbrouck explained the first influential black role model he encountered was a black substitute teacher in elementary school that was studying to become a dentist.
Inspired by such an aspiration, he realized as a young black male his goals didn’t have to be limited to his neighborhood. The world, that now includes a mission to Guyana, was opened to him because of the influence of a teacher.
At Crawford, academic promise, not athletics, gained him admittance to Cal. His football career didn’t come about until he felt challenged to try to make the team as a walk-on candidate under then-coach Joe Kapp.
A letter from Kapp, the Cal and NFL legendary quarterback, telling him he made the team and when to report for fall camp remains one of his most treasured possessions.
Something else he still possesses is a Mac laptop sent to him by Tony Gwynn, Mr. Padre and a baseball Hall-of-Famer, and his wife, Alicia. He used it as a Dean’s Scholar at The Charles Drew University/UCLA Medical School and in his first year of residency at New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.
“My mom knew Alicia Gwynn,” Hasbrouck said. “I would send them my term papers that I got A’s on.”
By extension, the Gwynn’s small gesture eventually impacted a world of needy “folks” — a term favored by Hasbrouck in conversation.
His recent focus has been international work, but he has always maintained a foothold in the communities from which he rose.
“My destiny is to service underserved communities wherever they exist,” he said. “Over the past five years, I have focused on closing the health information divide between blacks and whites. I have done a lot of radio and have spoken on topics ranging from high blood pressure, AIDS, flu vaccine shortages and advanced health care directives and the like.”
As Hasbrouck prepared last summer to leave for Guyana, he saw the Hall-of-Fame baseball induction ceremonies of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken juxtaposed against the ugly details surrounding Michael Vick that unfolded in his adopted home of Atlanta. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback eventually pleaded guilty to a felony dog fighting charges.
“Tony Gywnn and Cal Ripken understand they have a larger responsibility than themselves,” Hasbrouck said. “They are folks that understand a world of opportunity and celebrity opened up to them, and it is incumbent upon them to use it in a way that impacts society beyond their playing years.
“Someone like Michael Vick doesn’t get it,” he continued. “He has used and misused his celebrity, and it has come full circle on him. His celebrity has been abused by folks he has around him that are not of high character. Hopefully, as he matures, he will see himself in his community and ask, ‘What can I do to help?’ Then he won’t be so vulnerable to abusing his resources.”
Dr. Hasbrouck’s resources from a sports-inspired life are being put to good use on a scale beyond the sports world.
But one resource he’s awaiting in Guyana is installation of a satellite TV so he can watch Cal football games, although he should be thankful he missed his beloved Bears’ upset losses that last two weeks to Oregon State and UCLA.