New York Knicks’ deputy athletic trainer is Filipino

Photo from Erwin Valencia via rapper.com

Photo from Erwin Valencia via rapper.com

By Ezra Ferraz/rappler.com – The recent revelation of Manny Pacquiao’s shoulder injury underscores the importance of medical professionals in the world of elite sports. This applies to team sports as it does to individual sports like boxing.

One Filipino who is at the top of this field is Erwin Benedict Valencia – the first Filipino to be on the medical staff of Major League Baseball (MLB) where he was rehabilitation director of the Pittsburgh Pirates for 8 seasons.

He started as the physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) New York Knicks in September 2014.

He earned his first degree from the University of the Philippines-Manila, where he graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science in physical therapy.

But Valencia said it was not easy to get to where he is today.

Working with professional athletes

Valencia acknowledged that most Filipinos associate glamor with the lives of professional athletes. He said that the public only sees and hears about the celebrity elbow-rubbing, the chartered flights, the fancy hotels, the media hype, and the arenas with thousands of fans.

What they do not get a glimpse of is the pressure they face, including up to 18-hour work days; the lack of free time on weekends and holidays; and the need to be at the pinnacle of physical and mental health.

Valencia faces tremendous pressure from practically everyone.

He must work to gain the trust of the athletes he treats. Though he may develop friendship with some of them, he must distinguish himself as the authority on their health. Pressure from coaches and management regarding their status is also intense, and fans at the games can be brutal, particularly when a team is not doing well.

The profession is so all-consuming that Valencia gives a word of caution to people who aspire to join his ranks.

“I’ve said this many times before to many young health professionals wanting to go into sports medicine: ‘Have the fortitude and passion to stomach everything this job involves, because it will take over your life, even beyond the court,’” he shared.

Sports medicine debunked

The people who aspire to go into sports medicine despite these challenges need not necessarily earn a medical degree – a major fallacy people have of his field, Valencia said.

“The biggest misnomer in Philippine education and culture is that the only people that can practice ‘sports medicine’ are medical doctors, when in fact ‘sports medicine’ is a broad spectrum of highly-trained and specialized professionals that comprise of a team of individuals dedicated to the betterment and enhanced performance of athletes,” he explained.

Valencia is a great example of this. He holds a Master of Education in Athletic Training Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, as well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, specializing in manipulative therapies from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida.

When asked for advice to give to young people who aspire to reach his level of professional success, Valencia said that it is important to not only go through the motions. Everything must be done with purpose and with passion.

“We’re placed in this earth to make a difference,” he said. “If you think of the bigger picture, the universe will listen to you and allow you to manifest things you would often think impossible.”

Working hard

Valencia shared he had to work hard to show the value of his degree to US-based governing bodies in the field, the universities abroad where he earned his master’s and doctorate, and the international network he now surrounds himself with.

To do this, he volunteered to get exposure to people who could possibly help him in his career, and attended conferences to build his network. Though this may make Valencia sound like a workhorse, he was not necessarily used to the loneliness that such focus brought upon him.

He recalled that he often only saw his parents once or twice a year. “A far cry from time spent in family or barkada-oriented reunions I’d constantly have in the Philippines,” he said, and at times before, he often questioned whether he should return home to start a business.

But his perseverance prevailed, attributed to the sense of entrepreneurship that his parents instilled in him.

His ultimate success is unique because unlike other overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Valencia did not simply choose a career abroad based on the salary it promised, but instead blazed his own trail.

He challenged his fellow OFWs to also look beyond income. “Too many Filipinos settle – with the ‘okay na yan’ habit, in order to provide for their families back home,” Valencia said. He stressed that they should look at the bigger picture.

To Valencia, the bigger picture is not the salary an occupation will bring you, but the potential impact you can make in your field or on your community. “If one has a clear vision of a path of success and a true purpose of valor behind it, then the money will come, trust me,” he said.

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