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Profile: From dream to reality; Brockport professor represents Puerto Rico

by Panagiotis Argitis - Editor-in-Chief
Tue, Oct 22nd 2019 09:10 pm
Amaury Samalot-Rivera watches one of his pitchers as an assistant coach for the Puerto Rican National Women's Softball team deliver a pitch. He served as the pitching coach for the program.
Amaury Samalot-Rivera watches one of his pitchers as an assistant coach for the Puerto Rican National Women's Softball team deliver a pitch. He served as the pitching coach for the program.

A majority of those who dream of becoming athletes aspire to reach the professional level of sports. Brockport physical education professor Amaury Samalot-Rivera dreamt of becoming an athlete to represent his native country of Puerto Rico, and did it. 

Rivera, born and raised on the island of Puerto Rico, completed his undergraduate education at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and graduated from The Ohio State University with a master’s degree and Ph.D. While a student at Puerto Rico, he joined the college’s men’s softball team, which is where his journey as an international athlete and coach began. 

“My coach was a former pitcher on Puerto Rico’s national team,” Rivera said. “He taught me everything I know and was responsible for starting my softball career.” 

Despite leaving Puerto Rico to pursue his master’s degree, Rivera picked his craft back up in a different men’s softball league in Ohio, where he formed into a pitcher. 

Several years later, with a master’s degree and Ph.D. in hand, Rivera travelled back to Puerto Rican soil, where he secured his first job. The pitching skills he gained from Ohio drew buzz in Puerto Rican softball leagues, as the market for pitchers in the country was low. 

“I came back to my country [Puerto Rico] and was back on a team because people saw potential in my pitching,” Rivera said. “Soon my skills in tryouts were seen by the men’s national team and I made the team.” 

Just a few months after his move back to Puerto Rico, Rivera was travelling across the globe to compete in national softball tournaments, which could only be described as “living in a dream.” 

“I remember pitching against the Dominican Republic, I held them for seven innings, I’ll never forget that,” Rivera said. “As a child I always dreamed of wearing those letters [PR] on my chest and representing my island, it was just the best feeling ever.” 

Following multiple successful outcomes at international competitions, Rivera’s love for pitching was jeopardized after suffering facial fractures from a line drive to his head during a game played in Florida. The injuries he sustained caused him to retire from the team. 

Despite the injury that took him off the playing field, Rivera’s fortunes opened a new door into the sport which reconnected him with his love for pitching in his country — this time, under a coaching role. 

“The injury took me away from the game but the people in Puerto Rico, who knew of my pitching knowledge, offered me a job coaching the women’s national softball team,” Rivera said. “That’s when everything changed.” 

For the next three years of his life, Rivera coached different levels of women’s softball teams, travelling to Japan and Colombia, among other countries, while bringing Puerto Rico success on the international playing field. 

Numbers and results aside, Rivera’s international coaching career was driven by the experience of leading his country. 

“The biggest thing is the honor I had and opportunity to coach a part of Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. 

At the end of his coaching stint for Puerto Rico, one which he did not want to see come to an end, Rivera stepped up to the plate, put his family and professional responsibilities at the forefront and moved to Western New York to begin teaching physical education at The College at Brockport. 

“I didn’t want to leave [coaching Puerto Rico], but I had to,” Rivera said. “At the beginning it was hard because I left what I loved to do, but I needed to.” 

Brockport professor and Rivera’s colleague Dr. Francis Kozub explains his relationship with Rivera. 

“We’ve worked together in the field of adapted physical education program and have played gold together,” Kozub said. 

Despite his time away from his native country, Rivera was able to have a hand in Puerto Rico’s softball future. 

“[Universidad de Puerto Rico] Bayamón, where I taught in Puerto Rico, didn’t have a softball team for girls,” Rivera said. “With the help of the school’s director, we were able to establish a team for that university.” 

Since Rivera’s departure from the Puerto Rico National Women’s Softball Team’s coaching staff, the team has risen up the world rankings of the sport and is currently the sixth best team in the globe. 

“They always kept developing the [women’s softball] program and I feel like I was part of that,” Rivera said. “I watch them on TV now and still miss it [coaching].” 

While Rivera’s focus stands with teaching physical education, his love for the sport of softball has not faded. Rivera continues to coach women’s softball in local Rochester leagues and regularly visits the country in which he accomplished his dream in. 

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Taken by Vincent Croce:
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