Joachim “Gabe” Calalang lives by a motto tattooed on his arm, “Heart Over Height,” which he says encourages him, especially as a basketball player. Calalang played in high school and has been part of the Rockford University men’s basketball team the past three seasons. “I’m 5-6. I’m a point guard,” he says. “The meaning of Heart Over Height means that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, where you go, or where you’re from. If you have heart, nothing can stop you.” Those same words encourage Calalang in life and in his work to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Rockford University.
Calalang, the oldest of three brothers, is from Sterling, Virginia. He will graduate in May 2023. He chose Rockford because he wanted to continue to play basketball in college. He wanted to go to college out of state, the coaches were interested in him, and Rockford had the nursing major. He liked the school’s small community and close connections with professors.
His interest in nursing was influenced by his parents, who are “great role models,” he says. “They both work in the medical field. I aspire to be just like them. They’ve been great parents to me. They’ve been nice to other people. They’re so positive and outgoing and proactive, and I just want to be just like them.” Calalang’s mother is a charge nurse in a hospital, and his father is a medical supply coordinator.
After college, Calalang says he wants to work in a hospital setting, possibly in the mental health field. Because of his basketball career, he’s also interested in working with athletes. “I like taking care of people, and I like being there for others,” he says. “Whether it’s just talking with them or just helping them with an ankle sprain. Because I’ve been through numerous injuries myself. So, I know how it is. I feel like the experience of doing sports, and being in my third semester of nursing school, I’ve learned a lot, so I really want to be involved with sports as well.”
To help his college experience, Calalang is the recipient of The Michele and Peter Willmott Fund for Minority Student Leadership Scholarship, through ACI. The news was a pleasant surprise. “I woke up one morning and saw that pop up in my email. I was jumping in my bed. I was excited. It just shows that if you don’t give up, you’re going to get something,” he says.
“Receiving a scholarship is like a blessing,” Calalang says. “It means a lot to me because I know financially, some people aren’t blessed as I am to get a scholarship.”
He is especially appreciative of the donors he made his scholarship possible. “Being mentioned as one of the people to receive a scholarship, it means to keep working. To have that never-satisfied mentality, to realize if you keep working hard, you’re going to get somewhere. So, I really thank that person for recognizing what I’ve done for the community and on campus, and I really look forward to influencing other people.”
Because of nursing clinicals this year, Calalang is working this season as a student assistant for the men’s team. He works with a group called Cherry Troop, which organizes charitable events. He is vice president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, which promotes sports, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is a Regent Experience Guide or “Reggie.” Reggie volunteers provide guidance to first-year students at Rockford.