Santiago Valencia, 21, has overcome physical and environmental challenges in the pursuit of his sports reporting dreams.
The most-watched sporting event globally happens once every four years, and this time, it will have a new voice bringing its action to the masses.
Manatee Technical College’s Santiago Valencia, an aspiring sports journalist, traveled to Qatar for five days, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, to cover the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Valencia gave his reports live on MTC Radio (101.1FM), in Spanish, during his recurring Zona Fútbol shows on the station. Valencia, 21, said he paid for his own airfare and lodging, but that he was able to get a press pass for the seven matches he was seeing during his trip.
His dream of becoming a journalist is no longer a dream, it is a reality.
“This is something I have always wanted to do,” Valencia said. “It feels amazing to accomplish it.”
Without the World Cup, Valencia might not be going down his chosen path. His love of soccer bloomed during the World Cup’s 2006 iteration, hosted by Germany. Valencia’s family hails from Colombia, but Columbia’s soccer team did not qualify for the Cup that year, so Valencia found himself rooting for the host country as well as Brazil, as that team featured Ricardo Kaká and Ronaldo Nazário, two of the most famous players in the world at the time.
He has since developed a love for Colombia’s team, but he still follows Germany and Brazil closely. The impact his first Cup had on the budding soccer fan was profound.
“I remember the opening match between Germany and Costa Rica,” Valencia said. “What I remember is the passion of the people there, the players and the fans. You could see it. The game was entertaining (Germany won 4-2) and it produced special emotions. It meant so much to everyone there.
“Soccer and me, we have a great connection. Since watching that game, I have wanted to attend one, and now I am.”
His desire to cover the game he loves also started early. Valencia said he began writing his blog, El Reportero del Gol (“The Goal Reporter”), at 12 years old. It stemmed from Valenica wanting to always be involved in the game he loved in some capacity, which wasn’t always easy, as Valencia’s road to the World Cup hasn’t been a linear one.
In fact, it has been peppered with challenges of varying degrees from the start. Valencia was born with cerebral palsy, a motor disorder caused by damage to the body’s central nervous system. While Valencia said the disorder has caused some issues in his personal life, like being able to walk long distances without needing to rest — as well as play soccer himself, at least at a competitive level — it has not affected his ability to read, write, speak or any other actions necessary to report on sports.
More difficult to deal with, Valencia said, was the ongoing effect of something that happened in 2007. While living in Bradenton, Valencia’s family had issues with its individual visas and was deported back to Colombia. Valencia said he does not remember much of the ordeal, or has blocked it out, and felt like Colombia was his home as he grew up. It is where he made his best friends and deepened his love of soccer alongside the Colombia National Team’s many supporters there.
Valencia and his family moved back to the United States in 2017 after getting everyone’s visas confirmed. For Valencia, the move meant he had to miss his final year of high school in Colombia. After arriving back in Bradenton, Valencia took online classes to get his high school degree, which he said was difficult. He missed his friends, he said. Mentally, he was feeling worn down.
“I didn’t get to enjoy my last year with my classmates,” Valencia said. “It was hard to move on here.”
The move did have one silver lining. In October 2018, Valencia was able to see his beloved Colombian team play a friendly against the United States at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, something he was never previously able to do. Colombia won the match 4-2.
Valencia said being able to see his previous home country play on U.S. soil — and being surrounded by passionate soccer people — reinvigorated his love for the game and inspired him to keep pursuing his dream, despite the tough time he was having.
The next year, Valencia enrolled in English classes at MTC. He finished the classes in six months, then began taking video and technology classes at the school, in which Valencia learned to use a camera to record himself and upload said video to sites like YouTube. These are skills Valencia now uses in his sports journalism career. He records soccer analysis vlogs for the “Mas Allá del Deporte” (“Beyond Sport”) YouTube channel. It was also through these classes that Valencia earned the opportunity to host his Zona Fútbol radio reports.
Valencia will return from Qatar before the World Cup is over, but even before he arrived, he had thoughts on who will come out victorious. Valencia said Argentina has a great shot in what will be all-world player Lionel Messi’s final chance at a World Cup win. Valencia also said Portugal has a shot, thanks to the tremendous talents of Cristiano Ronaldo. Valencia will see both teams in person in Qatar to get a better feel for their strengths and weaknesses.
In the end, the on-field results matter less to Valencia than the fact that he’s going at all. After what he’s been through to get where he is, Valencia believes the experience will be beyond words.
“This will be my first (World Cup), but I hope it is the first of many,” Valencia said. “This is what I have always wanted.”