I grew up in California, but I was scouted by Sporting Lisbon and invited to their academy when I was around 16. I was due to sign a contract when I turned 18, but shortly before my 18th birthday I started having blurry vision and I returned to America, where I was diagnosed with optic neuritis. That was a bit of a nightmare. Everything that I tried to accomplish and work towards was turned upside down overnight. When my sight improved, I decided to return to playing and was scouted to go to U.C. Berkeley and play for them. I was an art major. In my final year, I was drafted to play for Toronto FC.
When I was playing at Berkeley, I developed a numbness in my foot. An examination found that I had MS and that my earlier blurry vision was an initial manifestation of the illness. It happened so quickly and so out of the blue. In a way, I was relieved as it helped me understand what had happened four years earlier. But it was also scary to feel there is this unknown and that I don’t know what this disease can do to me. The worst-case scenario, aside from dying from it, is that I can end up in a wheelchair and not be able to play the game I love.
I played a year in Toronto and was then due to sign with DC United, but I walked away from that contract. I needed some time to re-prioritize my focus. I was confused about my diagnosis with MS and went on as a National MS Advocate Speaker, talking to other patients and doctors to provide hope, while also educating myself about the disease. Midway through that year, I was ready to step back onto the pitch internationally. I had a chance to represent the Philippines national team and I took it without hesitation. They are not the strongest nation in terms of football, but it was a humbling and awesome experience to represent a country that my grandparents are from.
I retired in 2013 when I was around 24. It had nothing to do with MS. If anything, MS was the reason why I wanted to continue playing, to prove to myself that I could play.
But I asked myself if I really wanted to continue playing. I felt I am so much more than a professional footballer and I started thinking about what I was going to do once I finished. I always dabbled in multiple things, but ultimately felt I would stick to football because it was what I’d always done. Yet I always had a little bit of doubt.
“I ended up stepping into more of a creative role. For me, it was all about expressing myself in different ways.”
Even though I had signed a contract, had a sponsorship deal, and people recognized me, it was not what I expected. I kept on thinking, when am I going to start really enjoying this? I think I just never did. I then realized that I didn't want to be just a footballer. I wanted to be something more – and I was something more than that always. I wanted to try to find other outlets. There was this stigma that athletes are stupid, that they don't care about education. I always did well in class, so I knew I could do more. I was always much more than what I was doing.
I ended up stepping into more of a creative role. For me, it was all about expressing myself in different ways. One was on a pitch. One was behind a camera. And, now, what I'm currently doing is on canvas with a paint brush. Some of the challenges to becoming a footballer are the same that I faced becoming an artist. Many people want to be a professional athlete, but the reality is that not a lot of people make it. It is just as ambitious to say that you want to be an artist. But I wanted to show everybody that I could. And I wanted to show myself that I could.
I was always interested in art, but I was told you can't make money as an artist and if I insisted, I was going to live the starving-artist life. Even knowing how much I love football, there is something about creating; something about being an artist, painting and expressing myself that way.
My mother was an artist. She used watercolors and oils and painted mainly still-life and landscapes. It is difficult to describe my style. It is like expressionism, like modern contemporary. I don't want to say pop or commercial, but it sits right in the middle of those three or four things. Possibly it is considered contemporary modern expressionist.
There has been a lot of research about MS. For me, it is mainly about having a good relationship with my neurologist and getting on a drug therapy. There is no cure for it, but because it was caught early on, I can have a normal manageable life with very minimal relapses or episodes. Ultimately, I think I can live a fairly symptom-free life, something that would not have been possible 20 years ago.