Valeria Pardo has been described as the engine of Bolivian hockey. She is also a history maker for the South American country as she was the first player to score for the team in an international competition, when she scored the opening two goals in Bolivia’s 4-1 win over Uruguay at the Cochabamba South America Games 2018.
Pardo was captain that day and, after the game, which was played in front of 250 Bolivian fans, she said: “I received the ball, I saw the space and without thinking I hit the ball. It was spectacular. I dreamed it all my life, since I start following hockey on TV and Internet.”
Those goals and that victory raised the profile of hockey from zero to making significant headway in the football-mad country. Prior to the South America Games, most people in Bolivia had never heard of hockey, let alone watched a game. The games, which were held in Bolivia, were the first time the men’s and women’s national hockey teams had taken part in an official tournament.
But if anyone was going to push hockey into the national consciousness it was Pardo. The Bolivian national team player is one of those rare people who display a ‘can do’ attitude whenever a challenge or a barrier stands in their way.
For her day job, Pardo is a sports development officer in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in Bolivia. In a city where football is by far the most popular sport, Pardo has been pushing the cause of hockey both as a development officer and as someone truly immersed in the game.
Hockey in Bolivia is hugely under-financed and under-resourced but somehow, Pardo has managed to source funding and manage the meagre budget so that Bolivia now has both a women’s and men’s national team. Both teams also have a world ranking; the men are ranked 79th and the women are ranked 70th in the world.
Pardo is determined to develop the national team further. Prior to the pandemic and its accompanying travel restrictions, she travelled to Argentina for 10 days to learn all she could from coaches in the spiritual home of hockey. Working with PAHF coach Daniel Santi, she soaked up all the knowledge she could during that coaching sabbatical. Since the pandemic put a halt to travel, she has been attending PAHF coaching webinars.
The inspirational player and coach’s motivation and determination is infectious. The players have raised funds to self-finance trips to Salta in Argentina, where they got competitive experience against provincial teams. The teams would leave Bolivia on a Friday, undergo a long coach trip to Salta, play and train all weekend before returning to Bolivia for work on Monday morning.