By Liliana Marquez
Ernesto Ruvalcaba has many stories to share about his journey through soccer and life. While some of them show his struggles, others tell of the happiness the game has given him despite of being a half-an-arm athlete.
Ruvalcaba, a 20-year-old soccer player for East Los Angeles College, was born without the lower half of his right arm.
“My mom said that I was leaning on that side too much and my (right) arm wasn’t fully developed,” Ruvalcaba said.
He said being born like that, made life tougher for him, especially when he was younger.
“Some people don’t understand,” Ruvalcaba said, “There’s some that just stare at me weird, but I don’t let it get to me anymore.”
“If somebody approaches me and asks me about it, I will tell them. I’ll be honest because I don’t mind people asking me. Some of them are afraid to ask me because they don’t know how I will react,” he said.
Some people might be surprised to see a half-an-arm soccer player since the sport doesn’t require players to use their hands a lot, except for goalkeepers.
ELAC’s men’s soccer team goalkeeper and captain, Andy Gutierrez, said that was the first thing that caught his attention when he saw Ruvalcaba for the first time.
Gutierrez also said that he thought that having only half of his right arm would somehow affect Ruvalcaba’s performance, but then his opinion changed.
“After seeing him in a few training sessions, that was never an issue. His performance is top quality,” Gutierrez said.
Something that caught ELAC men’s Head Coach Eddie Flores’ eye was Ruvalcaba’s desire when he tried out for the team.
“He has a handicap, but he didn’t really use that. He came out as any other player. He is really intense about what he wants to do,” Flores said.
“We had about 90 players and he made the cut. He has been very consistent and has started in the first two games. He is pretty basic and a fundamental player. He knows his position and he plays well,” he said.
Besides being his coach, Flores is also Ruvalcaba’s instructor for a Chicano Studies class.
“He has a good ability to communicate. I think that one-on-one he probably communicates better than he does on the soccer field,” Flores said.
That desire is what pushes Ruvalcaba to keep moving forward to achieve his goals.
“Soccer allows me to show people that not only because you look a certain way it means you can’t do what you want or what you love,” Ruvalcaba said.
Once Ruvalcaba, a defender, steps on the field everything changes. His style of play is perhaps not unique but he is quick, strong, well aware of his on-field surroundings and he is never afraid of a face-to-face challenge.
Ruvalcaba said that sometimes some of the players from the opposing teams don’t want to go hard on him at the beginning of the games, but things change once they see him in action.
“I don’t mind them doing that because it helps me to see my weaknesses and my strengths,” Ruvalcaba said.
Ruvalcaba attended Montebello High School where he also played soccer for four years as a right midfielder and graduated in 2012. The struggle for this young athlete was more difficult during those years.
“Players laughed at me or started calling me names in a couple of games while in high school. It was around my junior year,” Ruvalcaba said.
“Once the seasons ended with the school team, I played with outside teams and it was there when the players made fun of me.”
This used to upset him and make him sad because he couldn’t understand why they acted that way.
“Then I realized that maybe they were mad because my team was winning or because they couldn’t do anything because I was defending well, so they were frustrated,” Ruvalcaba said.
However, playing at the college level has changed all of this. He is currently in his first year of college soccer and said that he hasn’t faced any jokes or disrespectful comments.
Someone who inspired him to keep playing soccer is Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho. The Brazilian is one of the main reasons why Ruvalcaba’s biggest dream is to one day play for FC Barcelona.
“I started watching Ronaldinho play and he was playing in (FC) Barcelona back them, so seeing him playing for that team made me like the team,” Ruvalcaba said.
Now that he is playing for ELAC, his life has changed.
“So far, my experience has been great. The traveling has helped me to see other colleges out there and look at all the options that I have,” Ruvalcaba said.
His ELAC coaches have helped him a lot, not only with soccer, but also with school in general.
“They are all good coaches. I haven’t had coaches like them for a while. They really focus on the players and the team. They really want something good for us. Coach Flores has helped all of us,” Ruvalcaba said.
According to Gutierrez, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. He said that Ruvalcaba needs to improve his decision making skills.
“Sometimes when he has the ball he forces the pass instead of playing it simple, but other than that he is a good player,” Gutierrez said.
For Flores, Ruvalcaba still needs to improve in a couple of his techniques.
“He needs to stay on his feet more. He tends not to stand on his feet and sometimes he slides when he shouldn’t. He needs to defend, so he needs to stand up to the offensive player,” Flores said.
As a defender, a player needs to be looking at the ball, not at the offensive player, but Flores said that at the beginning of the season, Ruvalcaba didn’t do it. He used to look at the player, not the ball.
Flores also mentioned that Ruvalcaba also needs to work on his air game.
“When we fall, we fall with two arms. He falls with one arm, half an arm or one-and-a-half arms. I think that’s difficult for him because of that,” Flores said.
Ruvalcaba is aware of the things he needs to improve and wants to keep working hard to start conference play strong.
After he finishes his time playing at the collegiate level, he plans to transfer to California State University, Los Angeles where he plans to major in Criminal Justice.
Ruvalcaba also had advice for people, who like him, struggle because of a disability.
“I advise people not to give up. No matter how hard it is or how many people are trying to bring them down, if they really love the sport and they really think they can achieve something, they just need to keep working hard because if they don’t do it, they will regret it in the future,” Ruvalcaba said.