“Every week I will be writing about my lifestyle as a professional athlete and how I became the man and athlete I am today. I want my writings to help people understand that uniqueness and willingness go a long way in making someone successful. But today let me tell how I got to where I am..."
When we are in our younger years of life we constantly hear the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Some of us want to be police officers. Other want to be doctors or veterinarians, and there are those select few who fall in love with a sport and fantasize about becoming a professional athlete.
I was one of those little boys growing up who loved a ball more than anything else. I, Vincenzo Marco Antonio Nicola Constantino Candela Lopez (yes that is my real name, thanks dad), dreamed of kicking a soccer ball in a “hooligan” packed stadium.
Born in Colombia, to a passionate Italian father and a competitive Colombian mother you could pretty much say that soccer was in my blood from the get go. At age 4, my family was forced out of Colombia because of violence in the country and we relocated in search of the American dream in Sunny Isles, Florida. We spent our first three months in America living in a Best Western, praying that things would get better. I started school, and my parents noticed I was a bit weird and hyper so they put me on a soccer team. And boom, it was there on those torn up soccer fields of Highland Oaks Park on Ives Dairy Road where a young kindergartener would kick and scream for the first time opening the gateway to a dream of becoming a Professional Athlete.
As the years zoomed by the world was changing but my mentality and will to be great never altered. Age 10, "Vincenzo what do you want to be when you grow up?" Age 12, “Vincenzo what do you want to be when you grow up?” Age 15, same question and with the same answer every single time. Teachers and older individuals tortured me to pick another profession. But I simply could not envision myself doing anything else when I was older. I wanted to be a professional soccer player .
I always kept at it and trained every day of the week. My angelic mom drove me to the end of earth and back so I could get the best trainings. I would rather go out for a jog or find an empty field to find solace rather than go with friends to pick up girls or a party. I always remembered my parents repeating over and over “if you are going to do something be the best at it." And before every training, even to this day, I repeat that phrase in my head to get myself going. It was not easy but I found happiness in sacrifices and working hard.
Fast forward a couple of years now, August 2009, my first day of high school. I did not go to the massive public school that I was zoned for, like all of my friends. Two of my close friends (who also played soccer) and I choose to attend a very small private preparatory school who contacted us to play soccer for them. A preparatory school gets you prepared for college, and the ironic thing is I never wanted to go to college. The school counselors laughed more than once at me for telling them that. I laughed back; I didn’t know what was so funny to them. They, like many others before, tried to change my mindset about my future. Of course, they failed in trying to change me. I do not care what people think about me or the decisions I choose to take. I will do what pleases my heart because there is only one person who can judge my actions: God.
Now, this new school we choose to attend was a culture shock for us. We were three foreign kids who were thrown into a completely new world. We had each other and no one else in the beginning. We were always together, which led us to getting the nickname "The Three Musketeers." Every day, we would pray for the school days to end so we could leave the confinement that was forced upon to find happiness in football after school. High school did end up getting better (even though we talked about leaving every day) and in our second year at the school, we helped the school win its first ever state title in any sport.
That taste of success was a gateway for me. I wanted more, I was hungry for success. I felt for the first time that I was ready to take a leap of faith.
After my sophomore year in high school, I decided (with my parents blessing) to leave school and finish my courses online so that I would have more time to focus on my craft. What I was doing was unheard of where I grew up. I had people judge me hard for leaving school, being called a bum, an idiot , and a loser for chasing what people considered an unrealistic dream. My decision was very simple. I had already figured out what I wanted to be in life and felt that I needed to get ready for my future, and no school could get me prepared to be a soccer player. So I left.
I thought life was going to be a walk in the park without having to attend school, but boy was I wrong. Every day I would wake up at 6:15 a.m., a quick shower, have breakfast and drive 45 minutes to train. We would train for about two hours every morning, two more hours at the gym at noon, and another two hours in the evening. I would get home around 9 p.m. every night and do my school courses. It was brutal to say the least, but I loved every minute of the suffering. I did not miss school. I was happy I broke away from the stereotype that was associated with being a high schooler in South Florida.
It feels like almost everyone in America follows the same path growing up. Six years of elementary school, three of middle school, four of high school, go to college and get some job where you ultimately end up becoming an average Joe. I stepped off the basic assembly line and risked a comfortable life for a chance to be someone; for a chance to be heard. I hate mediocracy. I did not want to be an Average Joe with an average job. I was a dreamer and I would do anything to achieve it. I was told by many people that they had never seen such a determined young man who was so clear with what he wanted to do. “Forget girls and parties, sacrifice yourself for a couple years and when you get to the top they will be there waiting for you.” One of my coaches growing up told me that and it had a huge impact in my life because I truly believed every single word. And today I can confirm it is true.
After ten months of relentless three-a-days, I got the chance at age seventeen to go train with one of the best academies in Valencia, Spain. It was an opportunity and I grabbed it by the horns. I said goodbye to my friends, to my parents and just as a dreamed of doing, I set off to the Mecca of football. I was headed to Europe. I killed myself in trainings in Spain. I did not want to take anything for granted. I would always try to arrive early to training so that I could juggle a tennis ball to better my technique. And, I would stay after training to jog so that I could improve my fitness. There were days when I called home and just felt like saying that I wanted to come back and that it was too tough. But the support system I had with friends and family never let me even think about going back. I willed myself through, and it would pay off.
Just six months into my experience in Spain a huge sports agency contacted me and offered me to join a professional club in Portugal. I would play for their youth team and boy was I excited. I had cemented myself in European football. After playing one year of youth football in Portugal I was ready to make the jump to play with the big boys. I did not want any more youth soccer; I wanted to be on a professional roster.
In the summer of 2013, I had tryouts lined up to try to make a professional team. I was rejected by a team in Portugal and a first division and second division team in Italy. I was devastated. After being rejected the third time, I called my father and tears just started flowing. I thought it was the end. I thought I would have to go back to America, go to school and be what I feared the most, being average. I had one more tryout left with a team in Germany. It was Germany or bust. And that pressure brought out the best in me and was offered a one-year contract. I made it, I was a professional footballer. I had people tell me I would never make it. They told me I was too small, too weak. But, they never measured my heart. Everyone I see I tell them to risk what they have to follow a dream. If you believe in yourself and have the will and determination you can achieve anything. Your mind can move walls, so do not ever think you are too weak to accomplish greatness.