Our country's best pamato at the SEA Games 2019 women's volleyball tourney, Alyssa Valdez isn't called "The Phenom" for nothing. With multiple awards and championship titles under her belt, this 26-year old is showing no fear on-and-off the court. But that doesn’t mean Alyssa’s path to success had been easy. The early years were challenging for the newbie athlete from the province, too.
Alyssa grew up as the bunso and only girl in the family (until her youngest sister was born). She had her older brothers as playmates, who eventually taught her volleyball. “My brothers were really good in playing volleyball, so I really look up to them talaga,” she shared to ABS-CBN Lifestyle at the press con of MILO South East Asian Games.
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Even then, with zero knowledge of the sport, Alyssa became part of the volleyball team in elementary as the “water girl” for the team. “That’s my contribution at that time kasi I really (didn’t) know how to play volleyball, but I was really passionate (about) the sport,” she narrated.
But Alyssa's real entry to the volleyball scene started when she tried to introduce herself to the UST coaches, then trying to recruit her high school teammate and eventual UAAP rival Kim Fajardo. “They gave Kim the calling card and then ni-try ko rin kumuha ng calling card. They gave it to me, tas ako pa unang nag-try out. I went to Manila to tryout, so after nun, I didn’t know why they got me. If you would see me compared to all those volleyball players, I really didn’t know how to serve, to do anything na parang ganun kaganda, kagaling.” She also shared, “Bata palang, kahit sa parents ko, I wanted to prove na kaya ko kahit physically I’m payat, I’m lampa. I wanted to prove na kahit ganun ako, pagkukulang or ganun ako as a person, kailangan kong may gawin na ‘hindi, kaya ko.’”
When she got accepted in UST, Alyssa had to leave her family in Batangas and move to Manila, which was tough for the then-teenager. The Phenom shared, “When I went to high school, zero din talaga yung knowledge ko kasi parang it was a new world for me. It was a new environment for me… It was hard for me talaga being away from my family, (and) learning how to play volleyball.” Her routine consisted of practice-school-practice-sleep-eat. “’Yun lang talaga. No other things. That’s why one of the things na siguro hindi ko na enjoy nung high school—kasi syempre sinasabi nila it’s the best time din talaga with friends,” shared Alyssa.
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Though being away from home was tough, Alyssa wanted to be strong for her family. “I wanted to prove to my parents that time na kaya ko. Tsaka ginusto ko to, kailangan panindigan. Yung ayaw mo rin mag worry parents mo na weak ako as a person kasi pinalaki nila ako ng tama.” She went on to say, “My friends were all athletes also, that’s why siguro na-motivate ako to improve kasi lalo na halos lahat ng batchmates ko were really great in their respective sports.”
Years later, Alyssa found herself moving to the next chapters of her life: Collegiate volleyball and professional volleyball. “Going to Ateneo, parang hinanap ko din yung challenge na mabibigay sakin to keep me moving forward. As an athlete, hinahanap mo yung challenge—ano yung makakapagpa lakas pa sayo, ano yung makakapagpa-improve pa sayo.”
With trainings then made tougher and expectations shot higher, Alyssa credits her previous coaches and programs for preparing her with the shift to the National Team. “Hindi lang naman skills yung tinuturo nila samin eh. It’s really the values—how to fight, how to be strong, how to be not just strong physically, how to be brave and courageous, how to have that heartstrong.” She also believes her teammates throughout the years have been of help to her. “they taught me (how) to really trust and to really have a family talaga. Sila talaga yung naging comfy ako nung nandito ako sa Manila.” As with her opponents Alyssa learned how to accept defeat in a gracious way. “Lahat ng mga yan, naba-balance yung pagka tao mo kaya ka nagiging maayos na atleta. If you’re surrounded by all these experiences, iba rin yung mino-mold ka rin into someone na kung sino ka ngayon.”
Now that she’s competing for the 2019 South East Asian Games, the Phenom has only one goal in mind: “It’s to represent and fight for our country. Pag pinag-sama-sama mo lahat ng atleta, isa lang naman yung gusto nila: Irepresenta yung bansa nila.”
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Photos from @alyssa_valdez2