MANILA, Philippines – In a few weeks’ time, Alyssa Valdez will be a rookie – for a third time.
“The first time I stepped inside Blue Eagle Gym, I felt so nervous. Do I belong here? Can I perform?”
Valdez recalled her rookie year with Ateneo after she was recruited by Roger Gorayeb (who first watched her in Lipa, Batangas before she moved to UST for high school). The jitters that she felt were later replicated when she donned the colors of 3BB Nakornnont in Thailand last year.
“I had been to Thailand so many times while training with Ateneo but playing there, living there for a while – on my own and not with anyone I know – I felt like a rookie again,” bared Alyssa of her stint there. “There was so much to learn about the game and about myself.”
The language barrier and the adjustment to Thai culture weren’t difficult because of her trips there and playing for Anusorn Bundit. She, like former Ateneo team captain Charo Soriano, picked up on the language. But if there was nervousness then despite being familiar, she is up for a real challenge as she moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar.
She’ll experience those rookie feelings again when she joins Taiwanese club Attack Line on October 5.
The Taiwan club first made entreaties during the Asian Women’s Under-23 championships. At first, Valdez thought it was a joke. Yet they were persistent. During the preparations for the recent Southeast Asian Games, they pressed again and now Valdez listened. But before making the jump, she consulted her club team, Creamline as well as her close circle of family and friends.
The time away and the times alone have given her a lot of thinking time.
“You value what you have, your blessings, friends and family… a lot. Most recently, I was talking to Jia Morado and the last time the two of us enjoyed a championship was when we were playing together in Ateneo. We’ve come close since but hindi pa. Kailangan magtrabaho pa. Nothing is handed to you on a silver platter. You have to work hard for it,” said Valdez.
And the lass has worked hard.
There was a time money wasn’t enough. Her school allowance back in Batangas was just enough to get to school, eat, and get back home.
“Pag uwi ko – zero zero,” she said of her allowance then. “Sakto lang.”
However, the sacrifices, the endless hours in a gym practicing, playing games…. playing through pain, hurt, and disappointment have paid off.
“School life was just studies and volleyball,” she bared. “Sometimes I wished I could have joined an org but there wasn’t time. But it has paid off. I am so thankful sa blessings.”
The blessings have been championships, awards and experiences she had never even dreamed about. “My world before was Batangas, UST, Ateneo, and Thailand. Hindi ko ine-expect na makakapag-travel kung saan saan to meet fans, plays games, or even conducts clinics. I ask ‘why me? Pumapalo lang naman ako ng volleyball? I am no different from others? Marami magaling talaga. Marami pa nga mas maraming championships?'”
More than the sporting glory the game offers as a reward, Valdez admitted her best accomplishments are graduating from college and building a house for her parents. She is shy to discuss it. But as we are old friends dating back to her rookie year, she obliged. “Dream ko makapagtayo ng bahay para sa parents ko and malapit na ito matapos. Aside sa Ateneo diploma ko, proud ako dito na makapag-balik sa magulang ko.”
Aside from Alyssa’s earnings, she saved almost every single centavo of her school allowance in her time in Ateneo. And that amount too has gone into the construction of that family home in Batangas.
“Seeing that happen is just as good if not better than winning a championship,” she said with a hint of a tear in her eyes.
These blessings have filled a hole, a void that sometimes she feels. “The one thing I want is time… time to be with friends and family. Time to do things alone. Ako? Introvert talaga ako. I like watching movies alone. Hindi sa ayaw ko meron kasama. Iba rin when you’re on your own. Pero like nung nasa Thailand ako, I felt so homesick and being around familiar people. Kaso I learned to be stronger; to do things on my own. I learned how to manage my time.”
Time is precious it is oft said. For Valdez, time in the form of a watch is one of two things she always packs with her on a trip. The other being a rosary. “There is a rosary in every one of my bags. Some of it bigay sa akin. A watch, I need to know the time. Cellphone? I can live without it. I can go without it for a day or maybe more. Hindi ako dependent on it. Simple lang naman ako – boring.”
She laughs and in a minute turns serious.
Her volleyball adventure isn’t solely about herself – a voyage of discovery if you wish. Mayhap, a pursuit of volleyball perfection. “I think for myself and all the volleyball players today, men and women, and lahat ng involved – the goal is to uplift the sport. To raise it to another level. If we can inspire others to play the sport and to use it to get an education, to earn a living, to give back to family, and to represent the country, good yan.”
And so her upcoming rookie season, a learning one, in Taiwan, is one such opportunity. “You can never be too old to learn,” she summed up.
And just like that, Alyssa Valdez is off to her next adventure