Jesus Alberto Perales Gonzalez is studying on our International Business Masters programme, but just over 12 months ago Jesus was representing Mexico at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. AU Vice-President Matt Addison went to meet him.
The wind and drizzle that envelopes Liverpool for several months of the year is a far cry from Copacabana and the beaches of Brazil, or indeed the semi-arid climate of Monterrey, the city in which Jesus grew up, but he is finding his new home to be adequate so far.
Jesus: “I’m very happy to be here. I have been here a month now. I like it – I like the city, I like the weather. I am enjoying it.”
Perales is enjoying the student life in Merseyside, too.
Jesus: “It’s great. It’s actually very different from Mexico – I was surprised. They make it a big event for everyone who comes here. For international students, it’s very easy.
“In the volleyball team, there are three English guys, and the rest are from all over the world: Canada, Slovakia, Poland, Sweden, and the Philippines. It’s very multicultural.
“I want to thank the University and the sports department. They have made it very easy to be here and very fun. They have been great to me since the day I got here.”
But why was it that Liverpool was Perales’ destination of choice?
Jesus: “When I was choosing where to do my Masters, I chose England because I wanted to learn more of the English language.
“I looked between the different universities, and at what people said about international students here. It’s a big community and that was a big factor.
“When I told my family that I was coming here, they were very happy. It’s very different from Mexico, but I showed them the University and the city on the internet, and they were very pleased.”
Family was also a fundamental factor in Perales initially getting involved in volleyball.
Jesus: “My father used to play volleyball. He played for the University in Monterrey, and also my sister, Alejandra, played too when she was younger.
“I started playing when I was 12. My sister used to play, and I used to go and watch her practice. When she started playing volleyball, I was playing basketball. We were in the same gym, but in different courts.
“I was practising basketball, and suddenly one day I was watching the volleyball team practising. The coach asked me if I wanted to join the game. I joined them one day, and then went back the next day and the next and so on. From that day on, I kept playing.”
Perales might be more than 5,000 miles from home, but there is no shortage of support around him.
Jesus: “I keep in contact with the national team. They supported my decision [to choose Liverpool].
“We have tournaments in the summer every year. I’m hoping to be available next summer, to go back and join them.”
The University has also been helpful in pairing studying with practising.
“The University helped me with the gym, the physiotherapy – if there is something I need, they make it available for me. If I need to use the swimming pool or the gym, I can. I’m very grateful.”
Playing at the Olympic Games is usually the pinnacle for most athletes, and getting there was no easy ride for Perales.
Jesus: “It was a very long process. One year before the Olympics, we were about 50 players.
“Training every day, all summer twice a day, was a very long process, but very fun. We had an objective: we wanted to go. It was like a dream.”
Never before had Mexico qualified for the Olympics in volleyball, making the opportunity all the more exciting.
Jesus: “When they made the final decision for the players to play the qualification tournament, I was there, so I was very excited to have the opportunity.
“At the start, I was nervous, because it was my first time in a tournament like that. There was no precedence [for anyone in Mexico, not least the team of players involved]. When we were playing, we just enjoyed the moment, because it is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It’s very weird sometimes. I used to watch it every four years on the TV. It was a dream to do it: sometimes I think about it and can’t believe we did it.
“That’s the dream, of course [to win gold]. Before, my dream was to go to the Olympics. People said that wasn’t realistic, but we did it. Now the goal is to win – they still say it’s impossible but we have to prove them wrong.”
Of course, the transition from playing at the very highest level, at the Olympics, to playing for the University in the BUCS league, is a very different prospect, but Perales still finds significant value in competing there.
Jesus: “It’s different, of course, but I think it’s a good level here in England. Each university has two or three very, very good players.”
Since Perales arrived, the University team has won all three matches, and sit top of the BUCS league.
Jesus: “I think it’s important to keep playing, to keep in shape and keep in contact with the ball. Most of all, it’s what I like to do.
“I play with the University because I love the game. In essence, I need to play – it’s my hobby; it’s the game that I love.”
Around 50,000 people play volleyball in the UK, and it is the fourth most played sport globally after football, hockey and badminton, but Perales believes the figure can grow even more in this country.
Jesus: “I think England is very much like Mexico, in that football is very popular. Other sports are always trying to get more attention and more publicity, to encourage kids to play. The best way to do that is with the support of people like the University. It can only get bigger.”
Perhaps by the time Tokyo 2020 comes around, volleyball will have taken over badminton in the global participation league table.
Perales will hope to become a University of Liverpool graduate by then too, representing Mexico at their second Olympic Games, with the ultimate ambition of securing gold.
Jesus is part of Sport Liverpool’s Elite Athlete Scheme, which aims to support talented students. You can find out more about the scheme via our Elite Athlete Scheme webpages.