PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG
Allen Gavilanes conducts his life according to the values embedded in The Tortoise and the Hare: modesty, perseverance, and relentless determination.
“The Hare was obviously more equipped for the job. He would show boat, he was faster than the tortoise, but the tortoise was steady,” Allen recalled with careful attention and a lingering smile. “The tortoise kept working every day and slowly but surely, he wins the race.” A forward on the Marist Men’s Soccer team and a first-generation college student in his family, Allen appears to be winning a race of his own. During his freshman year campaign at Marist, the New Jersey-native garnered record-breaking accolades, including the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Men’s Soccer Rookie and Offensive Player of the Year, All-Region First Team, MAAC First Team, All-Rookie First Team, and Second-Team All Freshman in the US with a #24 Top Freshman ranking.
Yet, as Allen discussed his awards, an air of modesty resonated from his quiet and unassuming tone. “I don’t think it has really sunk in yet,” he said. “I don’t know, I come from a small town, so the fact that I was Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year—I just can’t really believe it.” Allen contemplated the right words to capture the weight of his accomplishments. He credits much of his success to his teammates, coaches, and above all, his family. “I’ve only just wanted to make my family proud.”
Allen Gallivines's Childhood Image
“When you are halfway up, sometimes all you are thinking about is going home. But you just have to keep thinking about the summit that lies ahead, and not allow yourself to turn around.”
As a child growing up in the small town of North Plainfield, New Jersey, Allen dedicated his life to a few loves of his: family and soccer. The two were in many ways intertwined, as Allen spent day in and day out practicing the sport with his dad and cousin in the backyard of his house. Allen’s Barcelona-born father, Lenin Gavilanes, imbued Allen with not only an immediate love for the game, but also with a European sense of technical greatness and impeccable skill on the field. Allen was exposed directly to European soccer at the age of 12, when he was selected as one of the few East Coast kids to represent America at the Mediterranean International Cup in Girona, Spain.
“I remember playing Barcelona—they killed us,” Allen said. “But my favorite day was watching Leo Messi play at Camp Nou.” Allen’s playing style would later strike up comparisons to Lionel Messi, one of the world's greatest soccer prodigies in history, as his teammates today coin him, “Little Messi.” But Allen’s innate affinity for soccer manifested in much more than a passion; it fostered an unprecedented work ethic from a very early age. “Every day, I would play with the older kids—with my cousin and his friends—after school,” Allen said. He hesitated before breaking into a laugh and adding, “But that was after I did my homework because my mom would always say, ‘you have to do your school work first, and then you can go outside and play.’”
KEEPING FOCUS—Allen’s mom, Jenny Navarrete, immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when she was around 20, in search for a better life. She did not have the opportunity to attend college herself. A strong-willed and hard working woman, Jenny was committed to seeing her children, Allen and his three younger brothers, excel academically and maintain a clear focus on their goals. “My mom would always expect me to do well in school,” Allen said. “She would tell me, school comes first and then you can have fun.”
Jenny played a central role in Allen’s life and emerged as his biggest role model during even his darkest times. “My parents got divorced when I was 9 or 10,” Allen said. “Those were very rough years for me.” Allen, who was forced to part ways with his “fun” childhood, felt caught in the middle and began losing site of his academic focus. His dream of playing professional soccer consumed him and quickly compromised his schoolwork. “Sometimes, I would skip school to go play soccer all day,” Allen said. His difficulties reconciling the divorce persisted throughout fourth and fifth grade, until one day, Allen recalled a specific moment that changed the trajectory of his future. After being called into his school’s office, administrators told Allen that, with all of his missed classes, there would be a good chance he would have to repeat a year.
Allen came home to find that his mom had already received the school’s phone call as well. He was stung by the image of her breaking down into tears. “That’s the moment in my life where I just changed,” Allen said. “I got a better perspective that my mom was such a hard-working woman and I was just throwing it away. I realized, I have to do this for my mom, because she has done so much for me.” After adopting a new mindset, Allen began to step up his academic game. He did not end up staying back, and by his junior year of high school, he was recruited by Saint Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey—a highly ranked, all-boys Catholic institution known for its nationally-acclaimed soccer program. He joined the National Honors Society, and graduated with a 3.8 Grade Point Average.
Meanwhile, his soccer explorations continued to flourish. He fostered fond memories with his team at Saint Benedict's Prep, as well as with Cedar Stars Academy, where his team won one of the largest youth soccer tournaments in the United States: The Dallas Cup. “We got to play at the Toyota Stadium, and I remember we were the first team in New Jersey to win it.” Needless to say, Allen was a highly sought-after recruit by the time he reached the end of his career at Saint Benedict’s Prep.
Although none of Allen’s family members had ever attended college, he believed that he would be the first, using his mom as motivation to succeed. “My mom would say, you’re either going to college or you’re going to college,” Allen laughed. Jenny’s notion that, if you work hard, there will always be a reward, guided Allen as he navigated the college search and eventually chose Marist.
‘MORE SO, A VERY HUMBLE PERSON’—“From the first time I talked to Allen, on the phone during the recruiting process, I could tell that he was mature beyond his years and that he was going to be able to make a successful transition to Marist both on and off the field,” said Richard Cusano, assistant coach of the Marist Men’s Soccer team. “We believe that Allen has very real potential to not only be drafted into the MLS, but to have a long, distinguished career.”Though Allen enjoyed immediate success at Marist, he recalled his relatively smaller size being the source of some difficulties early on. He reminisced on a sweet memory of one of his first games with the Red Foxes, where a player on the opposing team yelled, “Number 15, you’re small; hiit the weight room.”
“I scored that game and had two assists,” Allen grinned. “We won 3-2.”In his quiet confidence, skill, and work ethic, Allen quickly earned respect and admiration from his teammates. “Allen is an extremely talented soccer player, but more so he is a very humble person,” said Simon Lund Jorgensen, junior captain of the men’s soccer team. “The combination of his soccer skills and humble, hard-working personality makes him a great teammate and an asset for our team.” As Allen progresses at a rapid rate, cultivating good grades at Marist and preparing to play in a summer league for the New York Red Bulls professional soccer club, his family remains at the heart of his efforts. “Every practice I have, I think of my mom and my brothers,” he said.
Given his ambitious goals of winning a MAAC Championship with his team and eventually playing professional soccer, Allen maintains supreme focus to become the best athlete he possibly can. “Whenever I step on a field, I want to show that I am the best. Every day in practice-I want to be known for being the best one on the field that day. There’s been so many times when I realized that hard work helps you to get better,” he said. When asked what trait he believes is the most important to success, Allen did not hesitate before saying: “Perseverance.”
“It’s kind of like life,” he said in reference to The Tortoise and the Hare. “You can succeed no matter where you come from, as long as you work hard.”
“Even when times are hard, adversity doesn’t last forever. Tough times don’t last forever, but tough people do.”