Even though he’s only been in Colorado for a few months, Karim has already begun to adopt the Boulder lifestyle by summiting Bear Peak when it was still covered in snow and ice. There’s nothing like jumping in with both feet, right? After spending some time with him, I would say that phrase describes Karim well— he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t do things halfway.
Karim was born in Morocco, but spent his childhood in Davis, California and Nice, France, before ultimately settling in San Francisco. He was only seven or eight when he was diagnosed with type I diabetes. This life-changing diagnosis forced him to adopt an understanding of what happens when the body isn’t functioning properly. In fact, Karim credits his diagnosis with sparking his interest in physiology, saying, “Even from an early age I’ve always had a keen interest in metabolism, and dose and response—with diabetes, if you take too much insulin, you exercise too much or not enough, you see exactly what the effect of that is.”
When Karim started his undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University, he was intrigued by being able to study whatever he wanted, and actually began his first few semesters studying Japanese. However, taking some classes in exercise physiology reignited his love for the field, and he never looked back. Karim ultimately earned his bachelor’s in exercise physiology, and then went on to do a master’s degree in the same field, both at San Francisco State.
In addition to health and wellness, Karim has a keen interest in mentoring, a relationship he first experienced as he moved up the ranks as a kick-boxer. Younger athletes looked up to him, and he relished the opportunity to become a positive influence on their sport and their lives. As he was going through school, he decided to combine his two passions by becoming a fitness coach. During his master’s degree, he studied pre-season conditioning for modern soccer, and trained soccer players as an athletic performance coach.
Karim explained that an athletic performance coach is not the same as an athletic trainer—you can think of a trainer as being reactive and of a performance coach as proactive. An athletic trainer acts as a first responder when a player gets injured, but a performance coach works with the coach and the team leading up to the game, optimizing training strategies to enhance performance and avoid injury.
Karim landed his first job as a performance coach right after earning his master’s, working for the Portland Timbers, a Major League Soccer team. He then had a position as an international athletic performance consultant, working with professional soccer teams in Phoenix, Qatar, China, and Mexico. Although he loved his job, he began to grow tired of the inconsistent work—he was only working when he fit the specific needs of a particular team, and the assignments were only for a few months at a time.
Dissatisfied with his circumstances, Karim took the opportunity to make something amazing out of a less-than-ideal situation. He had always wanted to explore the world, and realized that this could be his only chance to fulfill his wanderlust. So he left all of his stuff in storage, and picked up and moved to Europe. Shortly after arriving, he stumbled upon the opportunity to work with a team in Bulgaria for several months, and then stayed with his family in France. He eventually embarked on what he calls a “sabbatical,” during which he visited twenty different professional soccer teams and national research centers around Europe, including Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.
While he was working and traveling the world, Karim was able to develop another passion of his: photography. He is a talented photographer with a gallery of stunning pictures inspired by mid-20th century artists like Vivian Maier and Gordon Parks. Karim finds himself drawn to their photos, which depict black-and-white street scenes and portraits from a simpler time. In fact, he sometimes thinks he should’ve been born in an earlier era—he prefers Motown to new music and takes a lot of his own photographs in black and white.
After his stint in Europe, and a season as a performance coach for FC Dallas, Karim was ready to stop traveling and find a more stable lifestyle. Over the years, he had spent a lot of time working with athletes and trying to understand the output of their movements, but he realized that he wanted to know more about our fundamental ability to create movement. Eager to develop a career that would combine his intellectual interests with his love for mentoring, he decided to pursue his PhD in neurophysiology with the hopes of becoming a professor.
Karim recently joined Roger Enoka’s lab in Integrative Physiology, where he’s been collaborating on a study on multiple sclerosis, and is currently researching lifelong manual dexterity. In his words, “To better understand function, we would be best served to first understand dysfunction.” While he hasn’t decided what his long-term project will be, he hopes combining his studies with his experience working with athletes will help him become a well-rounded researcher.
For now, he’s on the quest for funding—and for the perfect 1980’s dance club. As he says, “I cut my teeth on an 80’s dance floor,” and it will always hold a special place in his heart. So, if you know of a happening 80’s night somewhere in the area, be sure to let him know!
By Jaimee Hoefert