Republished from the Boston Globe...
TEWKSBURY — Alencar Ventura Junior was 22 years old when he left Brazil, hoping to settle in the United States. His 5,000-mile journey to Boston took 42 days, including a night stuck in a rainstorm in a forest outside Guatemala City.
Nearly 14 years later, Junior returned to Guatemala, this time as a member of the US national team that qualified for the World Cup at the CONCACAF Futsal Championships in May. Before each match, Junior stood with teammates, hand on heart, singing the national anthem. It was a scene hardly imaginable in 2007, when Junior was dealing with coyotes, hitching rides, hoofing it for hours, and wading across the Rio Grande.
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“They asked us what we wanted to do, do we want to protest, have a knee down?” Junior said. “And everyone agreed to walk into the arena with our hands together and stand with hand on chest, because of what this country gave to us and we all feel so blessed to be there. I think it was the key for us to be more together, like family.
“It felt amazing, I can’t even describe it. A kid comes from a small town [Itabirinha de Mantena] in Brazil with nothing, no English. And after 14 years is called to represent the US national team in competition and won a qualifying spot.
“In 2007, things were very hard in Brazil. I wanted to go to the US but when I got here things weren’t that good. But we get up at 6 a.m., work 10 hours every day, and fight for everything we have.
“The speech I have is, it’s never too late; keep working, trust yourself, and be prepared for the moment because the moment could be tomorrow. That’s how it is. I am always preparing myself, always in good shape. And we put our names in history.”