QUIETLY WATCHING FROM THE STANDS

by Asael Ruvalcaba

To understand my fitness journey is to understand the person, Asael Ruvalcaba [aka Smiley Ruvalcaba]. For the most part, sports have been my life. I recall as a kid, I had to fight to play in the neighborhood sandlot. That’s right, a fistfight. Luckily, I closed my eyes and I connected with one punch and knocked out the kid. That one punch earned me some respect and street credibility in the Southmost area of Brownsville, Texas. From then on, baseball and sports became my life. I was never the tallest, nor the strongest, nor the fastest but I had heart and I used every ounce of my skinny frame. I believe I was good at every sport but baseball became my passion. Baseball was good to me and it gave me my biggest fan in the world, my dad. From little league baseball to high school, my dad was always there cheering me on. Actually, he didn’t do much cheering but he was always there quietly watching from the stands.

For the record, I have never liked my nickname but it is something that was a part of my life that I simply cannot deny. I was given the nickname Smiley by my little league baseball coach because he couldn’t pronounce my name and because I was always smiling when we had to run and/or do pushups. I guess I really enjoyed exercising, as opposed to the other kids who saw running and pushups as punishment. I clearly remember Coach Conrado Vera asking me, “Why are you always smiling?” My response, “I don’t know coach, this is fun and I just want to play.”

Fast-forward to 1990… I had just graduated from high school and my dreams of playing baseball at the next level were slim to none. Although I had no college offers, I still tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, as they were hosting tryouts at a nearby university. Unsurprisingly, I was sent home by the scouts and for the next decade I didn’t do much exercising. College, work, and life became the focus and this became evident around my waistline.  

On my 30th birthday, I read an article that mentioned that naturally your muscles start to shrink and thus the importance of exercising and lifting. That article, along with my waistline convinced me to start my fitness journey. I started running, cycling, and lifting. Everything was looking better until 2006 when I hit a wall. Actually, I didn’t hit the wall, the wall hit me. That year my biggest fan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My dad was able to battle cancer for two years but eventually was overcome by it. I vividly recall a day at the hospital [I told my dad]… “Dad, as soon as you get out, we are going to drink a beer together”. My dad responded, “Son, forget the beer, I just want to stand up and walk.” Sadly, my dad never left the hospital and right after his passing I started to run and I have not stopped since. I have taken refuge in his lasting words and used that as motivation to exercise and to live a healthy life.

For a while there, I was competing in 5k runs, half marathons, triathlons, and one of those mud racing events. I have checked off those boxes and now I just exercise to try to stay healthy. Luckily, with Twitter I have connected with the FitLeaders movement and Dr. Ryan Jackson. For me, the FitLeaders keep me motivated, inspired, and on track to Live Better to Lead Better. This group of individuals, educators from all over the United States and Canada, don’t care about titles or positions. Together we are bonded by Dr. Ryan Jackson’s mantra… Live Better to Lead Better. As educators, in order to better serve our students and our communities, we have to take care of ourselves first. Being physically and mentally strong is the first step of servant leadership. How can anyone begin to serve when you are not ready to serve? I have learned that servant leadership does not start or stop at the school house but rather it is a 24/7 process. There is no ON/OFF switch. It’s all day, every day! Our profession requires our very best because children’s lives are at stake. I strongly believe in this… “Schools were not created for adults to have jobs. Schools were created for kids and it’s our job to make schools great.”

Bottom-line, we have to make time to exercise. Trust me, I can find a million excuses not to get up at 4 am for my daily grind but then I think of my dad, my family, the people I serve, and the FitLeaders. I see it as a duty and a responsibility. I have way too many people depending on me and I cannot fail them. As far as my dad, I know he is there quietly watching from the stands.

10 comments

  • I can closely relate to this story. My
    mom, Maria Arminda Garza spent many Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays watching quietly from the stands. I would always tell my mom not to cheer for me as she watched me participate in games because I didn’t want to bring attention to me. So she honored my request and sat quietly In the stands while I played. I remember during baseball games and I would look into the stands at the old baseball field and there she was… asleep in the stands. Right before I came up to bat or trotted on the field, I managed to take a glimpse into the stands and my mom was wide eyed with a big smile on her face. She quietly watched from the stands, tired from working her overnight job the night before knowing she had to go to work right after my game. She was always there to see her son take the field. After every game she managed to sneak in a congratulatory hug and a kiss and told me what a great game I played…win or lose. Then she hurried to her job. She continued this routine even into my adulthood as a coach at Rio Hondo High School. I now have the opportunity to coach my son in football and powerlifting. I quietly watch from the sideline and my heart is full. I remember telling my mom not to cheer for me and my son uttering the exact same words to me. It is a hard thing to do but I do it because I love my son as my mom loved me. I lost my mom a few years ago to cancer and till this day it hurts. A pain that will never go away. I wish she was here to cheer us on as we take the field. My son as a player and me as a coach. My mom was our biggest fan. I’m pretty sure she is in Heaven cheering as loud as she can. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding us how big of an impact sports can have on our relationships, encouraging and motivating us to do our best. Love and miss you everyday mom.

    Michael Garza
  • Smiley, I enjoy your aritcle. The quote “Schools were not created for adults to have jobs. But for kids….”. Sometime people forget that concept. You Dad was a great man and I can still hear him telling you to forget about the beer. Bendiciones y Saludos.

    Guillermo Gomez
  • Que honda SMILEY! Awesome article.

    Jorge de León
  • Thank you for everything you do for our community. Our community needs to know what our leaders do for themselves. Your personal investment impacts and benefits the community they serve. You are greatly appreciated.

    José M Chapa
  • Wonderful article. You centered on you’re “why” and the “for whom” and that makes all the difference in the world. Talk is cheap, lectures are dull. Leading “quietly by example” has the greatest impact on our students. Maybe they don’t see you in the gym or out on the trails running. What they see is the “evidence of doing” that comes from your passion and commitment to your health. Exercise builds the body and mind. The byproduct is confidence and a centered spirit. Nice job my friend, nice job!

    Richard Allen, Ed.S.

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