Making the recent rounds of feel-good news on local TV and social media was Dr. Erwin Benedict Valencia, the first Philippine-bred and -educated Filipino to be on the medical staff of both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the NBA as team physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer for the New York Knicks.
The path to my friend Erwin’s dream job presented itself early on. In high school, he was dejected when he didn’t make it to the Management Engineering program at Ateneo. He got into Physical Therapy at University of the Philippines-Manila; he told us then that he would be a doctor for the NBA.
Erwin often did what he said he would. Decades ago, a friend asked for a postcard from every new place he’d visit, and he continues to honor that promise. In 2011, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest non-technical peak in the world, to raise money for various causes.
“My parents believed in making sure we thought about our future,” Erwin says. “Since I was little, there was always a one-year plan, five-year plan, 15-year plan. My parents were also strong believers in the importance of family, religion, patience and hard work.”
Erwin went on to earn a Masters of Education degree in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine from Plymouth State University, NH, and a doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine, and fulfilled requirements for post-graduate fellowships at Yale University and Regis University.
He became the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rehabilitation director for eight seasons, and in 2012, he founded social enterprise KinetIQ, a global education company that provides “next step” knowledge in sports medicine, wellness and performance art to institutions around the world that have no access to it.
Looking back, what do you think did you do right to get to where you are?
I took a Silva Method Class when I was around 12-13 years old. This might have been one of the most valuable seminars that I’ve ever taken in my life.
I learned to meditate, mind map, create my own vision board, use proper breathing, and began to recognize my own inner peace.
I also credit taking up Physical Therapy in the Philippines. It was both a blessing and a curse. I got the chance to go to the top allied medical school in the country, gained the most unbelievable, in-your-face clinical experiences only a Third World country could provide, all at a fraction of what it would have cost me in the US.
Not attending a Physical Therapy school in the US has cost me and my family an ungodly amount of money spent on credential evaluations, transcript shipping costs, licensing fees and other board requirements. But I don’t regret my time spent in Manila. I met some of my dearest friends at UP Manila who have become successful professionals.
What is your daily schedule like at your current job?
On non-game days, I get into the training facility at around 8 a.m., then see my first player at around 9 a.m. Players come in for re-evaluation and treatments until 11 a.m. Then, the guys are on the court from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Then we do treatments again until about 3:30 p.m. Then we grab a bit to eat, do paperwork and work out. I’m normally home by around 5-6 p.m.
On game days at home, I get into the training facility at around 8 a.m., see a few guys until 9 a.m., then they go on the court for shoot-arounds from 10-11 a.m. A few treatments are done, we grab a bite to eat, do some paperwork and/or work out, then I head home for a few hours to take a nap and finish packing for the evening. I drive to Madison Square Garden at around 2:30 p.m.; I get there just before 4 p.m. I see my guys for pregame re-evaluation and treatments from 4:30 to 7 p.m. I get dressed for the game and I’m on the court at 7:15 p.m. Game starts at 7:30 and we’re done by 10 p.m. Then we head home or head to the airport if we fly after the game.
On game days on the road, we have team breakfast then do shoot-arounds at the hotel (if we don’t have a gym to practice in nearby) right after, then we have the afternoon for a few treatments at the hotel and a few hours to chill around the hotel to meet with family or get a nap in. Then we have a bus around 4:45 p.m. to get us to the arena and we start preparing the guys around 5:15 p.m. for a 7:30 game. Yes, we work long hours, seven days a week, nine months a year.
Your job is a dream for many. Who is it for? What kind of personality is necessary?
To be in this industry, one must have patience, be open to anything, and be willing to do things often seen as sub-par, and with no time limit. Remember that the stars of the game are the athletes, and it is the responsibility of the medical staff to make sure the athlete performs at his peak always, no matter what personal situation you have.
How did you learn about the job opening?
I manifested it. As funny as many people will find it, I visualized for the moment to happen, allowed the universe to work for me, and it happened.
I was in Prague, celebrating my birthday in the most unorthodox of ways. I woke up that morning, happy as could be. I meditated and prayed and gave gratitude to the universe for everything I had received in my life, except for one thing—an opportunity in the NBA, not just for me, but for the many young Filipinos who dream of getting to the NBA somehow at some point in their lives. I felt I was so close to it that I needed to at least take a stab at it!
That day I didn’t ask for gifts or host my usual big party. I decided to give it all back by giving hugs in the streets of Prague. Two local friends and I gave about 300 hugs in three hours. It was one of the most rewarding days of my life.
Two days later, I received an e-mail from the Chicago Bulls. Two days or so after that, I received an e-mail from a representative of the San Antonio Spurs. A week later, my two friends from the NY Knicks called me simultaneously to see my interest in joining the Knicks. A few days after that, the head athletic trainer of the Miami Heat sent me an iMessage.
A few days after that, I received what I think was a description of an offer to be the director of Sports Medicine for the Detroit Pistons—all without me sending out a CV to anybody.
What is the best part of your job?
Being surrounded by great people and getting the opportunity to learn something different daily.
What is the worst part?
The hours. Working 15 hours a day, seven days a week, at least nine months a year is a lot of time away from the special people and experiences in your life outside of basketball.
Having already realized your dream, any new ones?
I achieved this dream at a perfect time in my life. I achieved my initial dream of being the first Filipino to be on the medical staff of any major sport at 28 with MLB, when my goal was set for when I turn 35. So when I hit 35, I felt like there was something bigger, which spurred me to leave baseball, start a social enterprise, and check everything on my personal and professional bucket list.
Now, I plan to enjoy every moment while working with the Knicks, especially working and learning with inarguably the best medical and performance staff in the NBA, the most open-minded head coach in the NBA, and the greatest coach of all time.
And, I plan to continue to inspire young Filipinos, especially those in sports and in the medical profession back home, to help them realize that nothing is impossible; to continue to grow my social enterprise, and help bring innovative education in sports medicine, wellness and performance art to places worldwide with no ready access to it; to continue to grow as an individual, and to allow others around me to grow themselves.
Any advice to young Pinoys who want to follow in your footsteps?
Have a clear view of what your ultimate global goal would be—the people, the place, the situation, the time in your life. Literally, have a picture in your head.
Know the purpose of your life. Make sure that purpose is bigger than money, fame or yourself.
Life is too short to be lived mediocre. Take risks, even financially, for the bigger goal in mind, which is to do what you love in life.
Begin every day with gratitude. That way, everything that comes your way will be secondary to being thankful for being alive.