The simplicity of celebrity-athlete Alyssa Valdez

Barry Viloria on Aug 12, 2015 02:50 AM
The simplicity of celebrity-athlete Alyssa Valdez
It's the simple things that still make sports superstar Alyssa Valdez happy. (Photos by Kenneth Natividad)

For a stranger, it’s easy to get intimidated by Alyssa Valdez. She’s a towering ball-spiking young lady whose face is plastered on ads everywhere, and whose rep is adorned with awards and endorsements. To think, she isn’t even done with the UAAP yet. For those of us who didn’t know about her UST champion player roots and Shakey’s V-League performances, Alyssa was a stranger. Except until the 76th UAAP Season, when she rose as the Best Scorer, Best Server, and MVP, and Finals MVP, and helped her team bag their first championship—trouncing close rival La Salle in the process.

Suddenly, Alyssa was the talk of the town, and she was fast becoming the newest ‘It’ girl of collegiate women’s volleyball. Some people stopped minding Fille Cainglet, Michele Gumabao, or even Mika Reyes. It was when she was gaining momentum that I pitched the Ateneo volleybelle to grace the cover of campus magazine Chalk, of which I am the lifestyle editor. I did find her one of the biggest reasons why women’s volleyball has been quickly gaining ground, which led us to believe she—among other collegiate volleyball players—deserved the cover. We eventually decided to pair her up with Jeron Teng, who represented the then still-dominant UAAP event that was men’s basketball. For the first time in Chalk’s many years of featuring male hoop hotshots on the cover of the UAAP Issue, Alyssa—representing women’s volleyball—came into the picture that’s been formerly dominated by the boys.

At the shoot, Alyssa was visibly shy. She wasn’t very pretty in the pictures, I’d say. “Fierce” didn’t work for the naïve magazine newbie. She had this one smile that we found somehow cute and charming so we had to stick with it. And it worked. The fan fascination over her astounded everyone of us at Chalk at the release of that issue. There were some messaging us about Jeron, but it didn’t compare to the flood of tweets and comments praising and adoring their “idol” Alyssa Valdez. That issue was one of our best-selling issues last year.

That was the first time I have worked with the Phenom. I would work with her again for the other magazines I worked for like UAAP Magazine and Metro. “Nagsasawa na ‘ko sayo,” I would usually tell her in jest, and she would laugh back to show her signature bungisngis.

I met Alyssa again around two months ago at the Blue Eagle Gym in Ateneo. It was her second cover shoot with Chalk. This time, she appeared with fellow Ateneo Lady Eagles Denden Lazaro and Amy Ahomiro. The three belonged to the back-to-back UAAP champion team, following and very fitting of the #girlpower concept and the Anniversary-UAAP-NCAA theme of the issue. Upon greeting her that day, Alyssa comfortably gave in for a beso while I congratulated her on her when-it-rains-it-pours success. I didn’t have to sum up her SEA Games fame, various media appearances, and slew of endorsements that at once tell you how far she’s gone.

“Grabe!” she shrugged me off with a laugh. “Wala! Hindi naman!”

I kidded her more on her endorsements. It was just too many to mention in one go, a fact that she might even be unaware of because she’s just too focused on her sports and studies. I got curious, so I went ahead and asked how she deals with her endorsements and such. Alyssa mentioned her talent agency ICONS, which handles the business side of it all. But, she said, it still goes through her, “basta walang conflict sa school or sa games.”

It was kind of surreal how one day, you see a tall, awkward girl who just gave a sheepish smile because she didn’t know how to pose—and you wake up to another and she’s a superstar who gives that friendly beam that people (and her sponsors) have come to love. Alyssa, the stranger fast became a familiar face and then back to being a stranger as she soared higher and became sort of unreachable like a true sports superstar.

But it isn’t like that for Alyssa.

Her feet remain on the ground, and she never forgets she’s still a student-athlete foremost. (In fact, she is keen on both finishing her Psychology degree and pursuing her MBA also at Ateneo, and will thus “make each day count” on her last playing year.) Never a celebrity. Truth is, she still gets overwhelmed with her fans. When she represented the Philippines in the SEA Games in Singapore lately, for example, around 40 of her fans followed her in support.

“Well, everything they do is sweet. Like, pumupunta sila sa training and sa games. Lagi kasi silang gumagawa ng placards tapos may bumubuong mga name, pictures during the game, at nagsusuot sila ng pare-parehas na T-shirt na nakabuo ng Philippine flag, ganun. So, sobrang sweet talaga!” she gushed.

As part of her celebrity, Alyssa also has her share of bizarre fan encounters. But she doesn’t mind at all.

“Siguro, nagpapa-sign sila ng mga kotse at sa mga phones nila using a marker. A permanent marker.”

Does she have a favorite fan, then?

“Lahat sila favorite ko eh!” she said.

What a showbiz answer.

“Hindi ako showbiz!” she replied with a laugh. “Well, meron akong favorite! Yung dad ko tsaka mom ko!”

Of all the success that has added a flicker of glitz and glamor to her once simple student-athlete life, Alyssa still turns to the simple things that make her happy—like “Cake! I want cake! Ube cake. Basta cake, basta sweets!”

“Tsaka time matulog!” she added. “At siguro time with my family and friends.”

Nothing bongga, really.

“Gusto ko lang kumain with my friends or family. ’Pag hindi kami nagchi-chicken wings, lagi kami nagbu-buffet.”

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Follow this writer on Twitter: @barrycyrus

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