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Dr. Erwin Valencia (DLSZ 1994): A Lasallian PT in the NBA

De La Salle Santiago Zobel school acknowledges Dr. Erwin Benedict Valencia (DLSZ 1994), the National Basketball Association (NBA) New York Knicks’ Team Physical Therapist and Wellness Lead– a first for a Filipino PT! “We are a culture that loves basketball, especially the NBA. And for me, I said I would love to be part of that,Valencia said in his interview with Philstar. 

Born to Filipino parents but raised in Texas, California, Japan, Indonesia, and eventually in the Philippines, Valencia entered DLSZ in Grade 6. He was the co-captain of the Southern Metro Manila Schools Athletic Association (SMAA) basketball team.  As a transferee, he struggled to speak Filipino but was grateful to DLSZ’s security guards who introduced him to local shows which became his training ground in learning to speak Tagalog. 

As one of his first steps in reaching his goals in the NBA, he asked himself: “What are the strengths that I have? It’s caring for people. So, I found a way to prepare me for that path.” Embracing the Lasallian mission of serving others, he believes that his education in DLSZ inspired him to have this kind of mindset in life. 

When he was in the United States (US) during the 1995 Super Bowl game between San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers he noticed a lady with a note stating, “MD, Sports Medicine.” From there on– this curiosity led him to spend most of his time doing research in the library, contacting his cousins in the US to learn more about sports medicine, and searching for possible schools. “Then I woke up one morning and I had this vision that was as clear as day. I saw myself standing in an arena where the light was still dark. There’s a crowd, and a combination of smell of popcorn and hotdogs,” Valencia said.

Back in the Philippines, he finished Physical Therapy at the University of the Philippines-Manila. He received mentorship from Dr. Raul Canlas, a renowned Orthopedic Surgeon and go-to guy for Filipino athletes in the Philippines, who became an inspiration for him to pursue sports medicine. 

In his interview with Boy Abunda’s The Interviewer via YouTube, he shares his career journey in the United States. He went through a “journey of education of looking into different degrees.” He started working in a clinic, was determined, and had proudly accomplished the following, focusing on Sports Medicine: Masters of Education in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine, a degree from Plymouth State in New Hampshire, a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy with concentration in Manipulative Therapies from the University of St. Augustine in Florida, post-graduate fellowships at Yale University and Regis University and an Advanced Diploma in Coaching (Executive & Leadership) from New York University, and Graduate Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology from University of Pennsylvania. 

His interest in sports medicine started when he first joined the Pittsburgh Pirates, an American professional baseball team who competes in Major League Baseball. He humbly accepted the job, learning to take care of professional athletes in providing short and long-term rehabilitation programs. He was the first Rehabilitation Director in the Major League Baseball and thus, became the first Filipino to be hired full-time on a medical staff for any major US sports team. 

Then, “2012 changed my life into something bigger,” Valencia said. 

With his NBA dream temporarily sidetracked, he travelled the world and in 2013, he co-founded the socially-responsible global education company KINETIQ which aimed to provide grassroots and “next step” knowledge in sports medicine, wellness and performance art to institutions with no readily access to it. He is also the founder of the Grasshopper Project whose goal is “for students and professionals alike who are interested in taking their career and lives to the next level.”

When he was celebrating his 36th birthday and giving out “free hugs” in Prague, his NBA dream finally came true. 

“When the sun rose up, I gave a prayer to the universe – thank you for allowing me to travel for two years. I lived this life I’ve always dreamed, travelling, teaching people and giving back but I’ve never asked before for anything but this time I would like to ask for an opportunity to make the dream that I had when I was 18 come true.” 

Indeed, his prayers were answered because offers came from several NBA Teams such as San Antonio, Chicago, Detroit and New York. He went through a process of discernment and eventually chose the New York Knicks because of his childhood dream to work with Phil Jackson, which he personally considered as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “There was something about how the Chicago Bulls played under Phil, something about how the Lakers played under Phil, and I realized it wasn’t the players that I looked up to but it was the Zen Master. It was how he literally coached their lives, taught them meditation and mindfulness, which was the journey I’d been on.

At present, during the NBA Season, he works seven days a week, almost fourteen to sixteen hours a day. During the off-season, they have mini-camps, draft workouts, conferences, and player visits. 

“My biggest accomplishment so far is being able to inspire and mentor a number of clinicians that have fulfilled their own NBA, MLB, NFL, or other professional sports dreams and beyond,” he states. 

Valencia brought a wholistic approach to athlete wellness and care that has become a trend in the modern NBA. Combining his knowledge in Sports Science, Manual and Movement Therapies, Mindfulness and Executive Life Coaching, he provided not only physical relief but also mentally and spiritually. The players would call him “Shaman,” “Yogi” and “Asian Guru” of the NBA New York Knicks. 

His advice to our young Lasallians and to those who want to work in the same profession as he is to be “Be clear on your own, so you can, in turn, inspire others to be clear on theirs.” 

“Visualize it (Knowing your ‘why’ as if being able to taste it and feeling it), prepare for the path (do the work) & manifest it (letting it go and make the magic happen).” 

He also shares in his interview with Boy Abunda that he is a proud Filipino in the NBA but that does not define him. What defines him is how he uses that platform, then gives it back to the people, pertaining to the Filipinos. For him, what matters in life is the ability to serve others. 

We are proud of you, Dr. Erwin! Animo La Salle! 

For more inspiration, you can watch his YouTube interview with Mr. Boy Abunda.  

Sources: Philstar, Esquire and The Boy Abunda Talk Channel