He grew up in the town of Guagua; a bustling municipality in the Philippine province of Pampanga. Like many others in a country laden with economic challenges, he comes from a family that had to struggle to make ends meet. At one point, both his parents sought work on foreign soil; his dad, in Saudi Arabia, and his mom, in Hong Kong. His dad returned to play both mother and father, while his mom stayed on – sacrificing precious time with her loved ones – in order to augment the family’s income.
He recalls this to be the most difficult of challenges faced in his young life. Yet he endured; choosing instead to focus on his favourite sport, pastime, and release: Basketball.
This is the story of Filipino-Canadian Avi Rhanzal Arellano; young athlete, achiever, and player par-excellence.
Avi recalls life in his home province; hours on end spent with his dad, who was his role model and mentor. His father – also an avid player – had big basketball dreams of his own. Sadly, poverty proved an equally big nightmare, and father found himself living his dreams vicariously through son Avi. Father poured into son: advice, tips, nuggets of wisdom, practical skills.
“My Dad said, I started really loving basketball when I was like in grade 2 in elementary school. I was very skinny and short that time, so I usually got beaten by taller and bigger kids in basketball. So everyday my dad gave me advice, taught me some basketball skills, motivated me,” Avi shared.
While most of the town’s kids spent afternoons taking their siesta (afternoon nap) – which Avid candidly shares was “required” by parents – the young boy, with his dad’s consent, dribbled the ball under noonday sun.
“Even at 12 noon high sun, I played basketball. My skin was so dark then,” he lightheartedly recounted.
New basketball shoes, old life lessons
So it was that every time Avi’s dad would buy him a new pair of basketball shoes, father reminded son of life’s time-tested, valuable lessons: Count your blessings, and learn to give importance to the things that really matter.
“Whenever he (dad) would buy me a new pair of basketball shoes, he reminded me of his time; though he loved playing basketball and he had skills, he wasn’t able to reach his dream of becoming a very successful basketball player, simply because they come from a poor family…he had to settle for old pairs of shoes given to him by friends. He said that I am very, very lucky; I have everything I need to be successful in basketball. Also, he would always remind me that education is equally important, or even more important than basketball. So as hard as I trained, I studied hard too…my success is all up to me now,” Avi said.
Sacrifice pays off
Avi reveals his biggest inspirations in life: His parents.
“My parents are my inspirations. I have seen them work so hard for us, sacrifice time and distance. Just to be able to give all we need,” he shared.
While working in Hong Kong, Avi’s mom applied for a nanny job in Canada, and in December 2006, years of sacrifice, hard work, and time spent apart finally paid off. The Arellano family was finally reunited as new immigrants to Canada.
Although life in Canada has proven to be rewarding, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“Here in Canada, the obstacle I had to face was the sudden change of environment and culture. It took time for me to get along with new friends here. I was a shy person and there were times I got this fear of getting bullied by other kids. But slowly, I got used to everything here,” Avi recalled.
Basketball was once more his outlet. He trained hard, played hard, continued to strive for excellence; always looking to his dad for strength, with added input from one new mentor: his high school basketball coach.
He did well in hockey and volleyball, too, but basketball is his true love.
“I love everything about basketball. But what I like most is, it’s a team game. And I consider my team mates as friends. There is nothing more fulfilling than winning a game together and sharing the joy of it with your team mates. I really love playing the game. After school, I stay in the gym for another 2 hours to practice and train. Even if I am alone.”
Avi looks back to a moment that will forever define his dedication to the sport: “I remember a game, it was a very crucial and important game; a ‘do or die’ to make it to the finals. I tried so hard and gave everything. We lost. My dad was speechless on the bleachers. I did not know then – he did not show me – that he cried. In the locker room…I cried with my teammates and friends. He approached me and tapped my back and said, ‘It’s alright son.’ It made me stronger. I will never ever forget that moment.”
Commitment, discipline, dedication to the sport has paid off in big ways for Avi. Medal upon medal, award after award; the list of accolades this young man has achieved is indeed lengthy.
To name just a few: Sea to Sky basketball league 2010 All-Star MVP; Junior Boys Athlete Of The Year 2009-2010 (Howe Sound Secondary School); Cougar Classic Tournament All-Star MVP 2011; Senior Boys Athlete Of The Year 2013; First Draft, North Shore First All Star Team, 2013.
The ultimate dream
Like every serious player of the sport, Avi’s ultimate dream is to someday play for the NBA. He is quick to name Canadian Steve Nash of the LA Lakers as his favorite player.
He also dreams of playing in the land of his roots.
“I do wish to be able to play back home in the Philippines. Basketball is a very big sport there and I think it would be so much fun to play in front of my kababayans.”
Like there is no tomorrow
In the meantime, Avi continues to press towards the mark; pushing himself to higher limits as he progresses.
To other aspiring athletes and young achievers like him, he says: “There is always room for improvement. Train as hard as you can, train like there is no more tomorrow. If you are resting this day, remember that someone out there is not and is getting better than you…set a goal and focus on it.”
“Be competitive in each game and practice, but at the same time be humble and friendly,” he adds; keeping things in perspective.
And finally, he shares: “Faith and gratitude to God, gratitude to family and friends…believe and achieve!!!”
His personal mantra for the game? “l will go wherever it (basketball) leads me…by God’s grace and will.”
Interview conducted by Atty. Melissa Remulla-Briones, EIC, Philippine-Canadian Inquirer
Article synthesized and written by Angie Duarte, writer, Philippine-Canadian Inquirer