On Monday, Sebastian Velasquez tweeted about the five-year anniversary of his sobriety. The Miami FC star has been through a lot, overcome, and is now able to candidly reflect on his battle with alcoholism and his half-decade of sobriety.
“I am actually very proud of my sobriety. It took me a lot of strength and dedication to get to the 5 years sober,” Velasquez told BGN. “In a sense, it became very personal to me to overcome alcoholism because it had destroyed my career and caused many problems in my personal life.”
“In this profession, you have many temptations but being sober is part of who I am today. It’s easy to say no to people when I am offered a drink. It used to not be that way.”
Going back to those times that it wasn’t easy to say no, Velasquez explained, “My alcoholism started off as just fun. Drinks here and there, parties, the good old times with the friends and ladies. Then, it became very bad when I started drinking on my own. Late-night calls to my mother crying for no reason, missing training sessions for Real Salt Lake, driving under the influence, showing up to training sessions hungover and smelling like alcohol.”
“One time, I had two of my RSL teammates do an intervention on me at my apartment, asking me to seek help because they thought I had a problem. I always denied it and keep moving forward as long as I was playing well. My drinking became almost drinking every day unless I was starting on the weekend so I wouldn’t drink Fridays to play Saturday. Soccer held a tab on me and it finally made me pay for all my unprofessional actions.”
With multiple professional seasons under his belt and his drinking getting worse, Velasquez talked about the low point for his battle with alcoholism. “It was in 2014, I had a DUI at RSL but that wasn’t enough for me to change,” he said. “It was the second DUI on December 11, 2014, in Greenville when I was on vacation visiting my dad.”
“I borrowed a car to go get a haircut. Atletico Nacional was playing the final of Copa Sudamericana so after my cut, I walked into a restaurant right beside the barbershop to watch the game. I started buying drinks for myself and was super hammered in less than 45 mins. I go in the car, and try to go back to my family’s house.”
He didn’t make it back to the family home that night. “I ended up running a red light to cross the bridge and the car hits the railing and almost flips, but it bounces back from the railing to stay on the road,” he recalled. “A cop sees this as it happens and puts the lights on me. I drive into the next parking lot and try to run away. I was so drunk that I trip over and they jump on me and lock me up. I wake up the next day in the jail cell, puking, crying, and all sorts.”
“My family then gets me out, and I missed my trip to Colombia to see my mother. So for all my vacation, I was staying at my friend’s house in his daughter’s room which for me was super embarrassing. Keep in mind I had just been traded to NYCFC.”
In the same year that he shared the pitch soccer legends like David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo, Sebastian decided to enter rehab in 2015. “On September 14, 2015, I was flown by the Major League Soccer to enter rehab once again (the first time was in May 2014). This time, I decided I wanted to change for good,” Velasquez said. “I was sent to Journey Malibu, which was an unreal facility. MLS really took care of me because they set me up with a personal soccer coach while I was there for the whole 30 days. It was inpatient intensive care treatment.”
“I had to wake up in the morning, exercise, breakfast, then 8 hours straight of one on one with different types of therapists. During the evening, we had to go to AA meetings. I would stand up at these AA meetings and tell them who I was, what I did, why I wanted to change, and basically get into the habit of telling my story which really helped me. They taught me many things, breathing techniques, yoga, exercise, diet, and how to cope with my problems on a daily basis, and also facing my traumatic events that I faced as a child.”
On the road to recovery as a person, he was also able to take steps back to being a soccer player. “After 30 days, I was released and back to training with NYCFC. As I arrived I had the most heart to heart conversation with Claudio Reyna, which is one that I will always remember,” he said.
Looking at the relationship between his personal and professional lives, how did his battle with alcoholism affect his career as a soccer player? “It destroyed my soccer career. When I got drafted, I was in Junior College, there is a reason for that,” he said. “I was a kid off the streets. I didn’t have rules, I hustled my way through life, but I loved soccer more than anything. I just wanted to get paid to play. I was actually a very good student as well but I just did my school work to get to college to play.”
“As soon as I had the professional opportunities, I dropped school and would go for my soccer dream. I was at Barcelona at 17 years old, I didn’t make it because of my VISA situation, guess how I dealt with it? Drinking. Then I would refocus again for my next tryout with Espanol FC two years after. This time, I didn’t make it because I was 19, guess how I dealt with it? Drinking. Then I went to Junior College, and had two amazing seasons, getting ready to transfer to Clemson University on a full-ride but NCAA then finds out about my tryouts and lose my eligibility….guess how I dealt with it? Drinking. Coach Noonen from Clemson then reaches out to Real Salt Lake to give me a 3-day trial on December 7-10, 2011. Incredibly I ended up being drafted on January 16, 2012.”
Unfortunately, going pro didn’t put an end to that cycle, as Velasquez said his professional career didn’t start out as he expected. “I wasn’t starting all games, I wasn’t playing every single game, I was getting limited minutes, I was playing a position I never played before and then the injuries started, and guess how I dealt with it? Drinking,” he explained. “Then 2013, I take the PK to win the MLS Cup for RSL and the keeper blocks it. One of the most traumatic moments I had to live with since then, guess how I dealt with it? Drinking. I played 50 games for RSL and I was behind the scenes drinking most of the time, and I was still playing very well and getting minutes as a youngster because I was on a top team. I had some of the best players in the MLS on my team. Just imagine if I was a clean professional. I was gonna have a chance to go to the US National team camp because I was playing and then I messed it up with my arrest in 2014 after finding out that the family member who molested me was stabbed to death in Colombia….guess how I dealt with it? Drinking.”
Now that he has five years to look back on, I asked Sebastian if it’s an added challenge to stay sober when you’re a professional athlete. “I don’t think it’s hard to be professional and sober because I live it every day,” he answered. “I go out with my teammates and just have a coke with ice and enjoy my night with the boys. All I had to do was not put alcohol in it and it would of all been okay. I would probably still be in MLS right now.”
“But, I have been able to do some great things in the USL right now, even went to play in Korea for a short period. Addiction can turn top athletes of any sport into very lonely people in a very dark space. I always hope people find help as soon as possible because sometimes it can be too late.”
When talking about everyone’s unique journey with addiction, Sebastian said, “I think everyone in the world has some type of substance that they abuse. I didn’t really know there were so many. It can come in many forms: alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, sex, porn, all these different things that can be abused, and destroy your life. Thankfully mine was just alcohol and I was able to overcome it, but many people lose their lives because of these addictions.”
What has helped him most on this journey to five years of sobriety? “I think for me, the biggest lesson I learned was accountability. Who was going to hold me accountable and that was my son (now six years old). I tattooed a promise that I made to him, which was I would only intoxicate myself with the love I have for him,” Sebastian said. “I am a very dedicated person and I dedicated myself to keep that promise to him. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t keep that promise to him. Another one is my breathing technique that I use when I get anxious, I calm myself down, regroup my thoughts, and keep moving forward. The best one of all is exercise, which is why I am a top professional now on a daily basis.”
Two important ladies in his life are now giving him extra motivation to stay sober and be the best version of himself: his young daughter, Sofia, and his girlfriend, Cristina. Talking about his girlfriend, who he said is very important to him, he said, “She means everything to me, thankful she met me as a sober man because I probably would have lost her if I was still drinking.”
“The people you surround yourself with have to understand the magnitude of the situation you have lived and understand why you are so different now. My family is everything to me, I go as hard as I can every training session, and every single game to make sure I can provide a future for them. I don’t have any more time to waste because soccer is a quarter of your lifetime. You have to take advantage and make sure you don’t owe anything to futbol because at some point in time it will make you pay or it will reward you for everything you put into it. Now I am living off the rewards.”
Velasquez is in his first season with Miami after spending part of last season in the USL Championship with El Paso Locomotive FC. While in El Paso, he helped raise money for El Paso Fusion, a youth girl’s soccer team that was outside the Walmart during the horrific shooting back in early August 2019. With his work on and off the pitch, a sober Sebastian Velasquez is making sure not to waste a single day.