“Professional Polymath” Erwin Benedict Valencia ’02G

Visualize it. Prepare for the path. Manifest it.

This succinct strategy for success distills Erwin Benedict Valencia’s powerful yet modest approach to life. He exemplifies the mantra through tenacious self-improvement and an ebullient personality that has led to professional accomplishments and inner peace.

“You need to be absolutely clear about your purpose in life,” says the clinician, coach, and motivational change agent. “If you know what you want then you can work toward it. Then, allow for time. The magic actually happens when you take one step back and let the universe do its work. This guidance helps those I coach, mentor, and work with on a daily basis.”

As the New York Knicks’s director of training and conditioning, Valencia’s many responsibilities include leading the medical and performance staff and outside practitioners, and supervising training treatment, performance, and rehab protocols. He is credited with instituting the NBA’s first daily in-season breathwork, intention-setting, and meditation programs and was the first to introduce meditation apps as part of recovery strategies.

Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Valencia’s vision goes far beyond the confines of Madison Square Garden. He leads global organizations concerned with health and wellness, including the Grasshopper Project, a nonprofit focused on mentoring, and KinetIQ, a social responsibility-based firm that brings innovation education to otherwise underserved areas. He’s worked, coached, advised, and invested in related international activities in the Czech Republic, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, and South Korea, among a host of other nations.

As a kid growing up in the Philippines, he was captivated by American basketball, and his path to the pros began after he saw a commercial featuring a sports medicine physician, a line of work he hadn’t previously considered. After earning a degree in physical therapy in Manila, he began researching graduate programs, which he hoped to combine with his idealized Dead Poets Society conception of New England.

He wound up talking with Professor Julie Bernier about a fledgling Plymouth State program, designed to be the nation’s first entry-level master’s program in athletic training. It more than fit the bill.

“I will always be grateful to Dr. Bernier for that phone call,” says Valencia, who was among an initial cohort of just three students. He credits Bernier and since-retired Professor Linda Levy for their belief in him during his time in Plymouth and ever since.

Born to Filipino parents in New Jersey but raised in Texas, California, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Valencia was, in his words, a “different dude,” who nevertheless fit right in. The self-proclaimed “dance ninja” deejayed with WPCR, at frat parties, and up in Waterville Valley. Plymouth State arranged a student athletic trainer internship for him at Tilton School, and the prep secondary institution’s formal jacket and tie dinners combined with fall fairs, foliage, and the White Mountains to make Valencia’s New England dream come true.

An older, big brother figure to many of his peers, Valencia felt blessed to share his worldly background and humbled to bond through everyday tasks. “Plymouth had a strong undergraduate program in athletic training and the master’s program was still just an experiment,” he recalls. “I was with undergraduates the whole time, getting up early to fill Gatorade buckets before practice just like everyone else.”

His quest to join professional sports paid off in 2004 when he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, first with its minor league team and eventually entering the big leagues as Major League Baseball’s first rehabilitation director. In 2014 he joined the Knicks, where he was inspired by Coach Phil Jackson’s Zen philosophy. Along the way, Valencia earned a doctorate among numerous academic certificates and credentials, which he continues to amass.

Valencia is currently starting a Filipino e-sports team, serves as a consultant for several firms and organizations, and is a sought-after speaker. He also raises funds to counter the recent devastating Filipino typhoons. He keeps up with PSU via virtual reunions and returns to New Hampshire when he can, including a visit this summer to escape locked-down New York. A mentor to several PSU students, he’s quick to recommend his Grasshopper Project to those looking for guidance.

“I’m a professional polymath,” he says, “whose purpose on earth is to show people how to live their lives to the fullest…and with passion, period.”