/ Passion / Persistence / Perserverance //
If I gave this a title, I think it would be , ‘Family & Basketball’.
With pride, all conversations with JR Gallarza lead back to a connection with his family, or his passion for basketball.
As a first-generation Filipino immigrant, arriving with his parents to Canada at the age of 2, JR grew up in the Nineties in Brantford (a small town about an hour west of Toronto, Canada). Among many other things, his parents were and still are his role models for a strong work ethic and strong family values. As many first generation immigrant parents know, a strong work ethic meant a chance at survival and making better for the next generation. It is a story that plays out across North America and I’m sure beyond.
Lucky are the ones that find their passion early and devote to nurturing it. As he recounts, it was at the age of four that he found basketball. To be precise, ‘like many Filipino’s my dad put a basketball in my hands’. That was the beginning and his parents continued to nurture his passion throughout the years – driving him to practices and games, wherever and whenever they may be.
JR devoted his life to basketball, but playing in a small town - nonetheless the hometown of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky - most kids dabbled in multiple sports like hockey and football. It wasn’t until he had the chance to run with the Filipino Leagues in Toronto that he found his groove and found a community of like-minded people. It wasn’t just that everyone was Filipinx, it was that everyone had a fire and lived basketball. “It was where I found my stride, it was where I was the real me as a basketball player.”
After a solid high school career, JR received a full university scholarship to play in the Phillipines, landing with the University of The Phillipines, where he accumulated accolade upon accolade and was well on his way to turning pro (a projected top 10 draft pick). He was not only a great athlete, but also a great student. In 2015, he was the Student-Athlete of the Year in the Phillipines and upon completing his university career, received a degree in teaching.
After university, he had to, as he puts it, ‘make a big boy decision’. In his second year of university, he became a father and he had to make a choice between chasing his basketball aspirations in the Phillipines or coming back to Canada and devoting more time to supporting his son, Reinen.
Returning to Canada, he was walking away from the game he had been devoted to since he was four years old. But deep down, he knew it would always be family first.
Working as a before- and after-school supervisor through the YMCA back in his hometown, it was difficult to pick up a basketball for some time upon his return. But it was family that brought him back. This time, it was his son. At a birthday party, there was a basketball-shooting game that he played with Reinen and once he picked up the ball, that energy of the game was back flowing wildly through his veins.
Coinciding with the encouragement of his fiancée, Holly, JR founded Role Basketball, training young athletes in the Brantford area. Through his own experience and values in playing the game he loves, he instills in his athletes that self-confidence and success on a team is based on work ethic and a commitment to excelling in the role you are given.
JR speaks about basketball with much gratitude for all that it has given him, “Basketball has always been much more than a game to me. Of course now my passion has turned into a career without having to play it professionally, but it continues to be a tool in which I am able to help others. It is a source of connection with my son as we also share our love for it together, and it is a source of fitness as I continue to age.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, this is a story of family & basketball. Without question, JR’s life is passionately dedicated to his family circle - his parents, his fiancée, and his son. He would add that this is closely followed by his basketball family - his teammates and the athletes he trains, for which the same passion and dedication is visible. So, family first, always. It just so happens that basketball is the life force from which he draws strength and survival, for himself and more importantly to him, for his family.
1. If a complete stranger had to walk a thousand miles in your shoes, what piece of advice would you give them beforehand?
No matter how big or small, keep taking a step forward.
2. What are 2 – 3 key moments in your life that define you?
- Accepting my basketball scholarship and moving to the Philippines.
- The birth of my son.
- Meeting my fiancé (she's a big reason I started my business).
3. What are three words that tell me who you are. What do each of those words mean to you?
It's not 3 words but when I was playing basketball inTaiwan and had the chance to meditate with the Venerable Masters, they always spoke of "The 3 Things We Have Control Over"
- Do Good Things
- Think Good Thoughts
- Speak Good Words
these three phrases were also hung on banners around the streets there. This has stuck with me for years ever since my time there and I use them in my every day practice and reminders if myself or those I work with feel overwhelmed.
With dignity & respect,