The chants and cheers are deafening, the boos are outstandingly loud, the people cheer, then the team that wins conquers the gym, hugs the court and the sweet smell of victory abounds.
Local basketball personality Kelvin dela Peña, a Filipino-Canadian born in the Philippines and raised in Calgary, began his name engraved in basketball at Mount Royal University under its home team Cougars but pursued a professional career in the Philippines at age 20. dela Peña captures the attention of many viewers with his skills that have developed over many years of playing basketball.
“Basketball is in my blood,” dela Peña says.
The youngest son of Susan Chicote-dela Peña and former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) San Miguel Beermen athlete Ric dela Peña, dela Peña grew up in a household submerged in the basketball community. It was natural for dela Peña and his older brother, Richard, to follow in their father’s footsteps from a young age.
“Richard and I grew up playing either as a team or as opponents,” he says.
dela Peña’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) career began at Mapua Institute of Technology, where he achieved several awards such as the coveted Rookie of the Year in 2005 where he became the first Mapua Cardinal to again uphold the title since Mapuan Ruben dela Rosa claimed it in 1995. Then in 2007 he claimed the highly sought after Most Valuable Player award after averaging the seasons best of 15.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game. That same year he was named into the Season 83 Mythical Five. He was bestowed with such titles as “The Comeback Kid” and “King Cardinal” due to his ability to bring his team together and lead them to victories in the last clutch seconds of games and his never-give-up attitude. In his last season of playing, dela Peña began to feel back spasms but knew he needed to fight through the pain in order to help the Cardinals claim a final-four slot and enter the finals.
“Some days the pain kept me off the court and that was quite a hard thing to accept at first,” he says. “I needed to find ways to shorten the journey of being unfit to play—walking with a cane only did so much.”
He sought ways to minimize the aches and pain killers provided a temporary solution. Finding his road to recovery was the most important thing for him to achieve at that time.
His goal was to express his appreciation to the school that adopted him through his college life.
“I needed to play again and make Mapua proud— that was my goal,” he says.
In 2008 dela Peña was drafted 15th overall and despite his hindering injury, he began his stint in the professional arena via the PBA, where he played for the Alaska Aces until 2010.
Finally it came to light that the lower back pain he suffered were due to three herniated discs and a pinched sciatic nerve.
He was given limited playing time. After two-years with Alaska Aces, dela Peña took a year off to reflect, heal and train in order to get back to being the way he was before his injuries.
“I never doubted in my mind that I wouldn’t get better. I did what I’ve always done,” dela Peña says.
After months of committing to hard work, training and recovery, he bounced back and silenced those that counted him out. In 2011, he was drafted to join the San Miguel Beermen of the ASEAN Basketball League where teams from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, China and South Sumatra competed for a title. The Beermen were in the championship finals, but lost two games to one to the Indonesian Warriors.
After the ASEAN season wrapped up, he concluded that it was time to explore new horizons and left the Philippines to join his family here in Calgary.
“I knew I would miss playing in the Philippines, but I realized that it was time for me to move on,” dela Peña says. “I was missing out on so much back home, such as birthdays and anniversaries. I realized my parents were getting older and I wasn’t making memories with them.”
His journey did not end there because he has other plans here in Canada that he hopes to put into action. dela Peña knew he would pursue something closely related to his love of playing basketball.
“I want to keep doing what I love whether it means playing or coaching basketball,” he says.
Opportunities for the young athlete came rushing in his first year back home. A new passion for fitness and health motivated him to pursue a career in training others, who like him at one point, have been going through physical disabilities or setbacks and get them back to a healthy and positive state in their lives. Something most people do not get to see is the laid back and easygoing person he is in his personal life.
“I mind my own business and am an easygoing person outside the court,” dela Peña says.
Today, you can find dela Peña coaching at Cross- Fit Athlete Inside during the week and on weekends coaching kids in basketball skills and suiting up for his home team The Calgary Crush, the only Western Canadian team in the American Basketball Association (ABA). dela Peña is also an assistant coach for the girls basketball team at St. Mary’s University and the head coach for the boys junior team at Bishop Mc-Nally High School.
dela Peña relates to the quote, “The people who often criticize your life are usually the same people that do not know the price you paid to get to where you are today.”
He says success in basketball is not always measured by awards and distinctions— it is often by the hard work that one had put into the games he played, whether it was a win or a loss.
“Working hard and staying humble is still the final measure of being successful,” he says.