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Alec Aloia: A Story of Passion and Perseverance

Special Feature by Freddy Sebastian.

Lionel Messi is superhuman on the field and could be considered the best player in history. When the diminutive Argentine placed his majestic free kick past Liverpool's goalie in the Champions League semifinals this past spring, glory was bestowed upon him by fans and the press as it was expected his Barcelona team would move on to the final for yet another trophy. Yet fate didn't work out that way as they fell in the second leg to bow out of the competition.

But two stories were encapsulated on that day at the famed Nou Camp.

Messi had scored his 600th goal for the club, posting another record for the history books of his exploits. But the loss stung him, more so the critics. However, he didn't let the criticism get to him. He's already been used to it since he was a young lad in Argentina, by coaches and players, after he was diagnosed with a growth-hormone deficiency that threatened the global audience of seeing his abilities. Thankfully, Barcelona became enamored of Messi, flew him and his family to Spain and paid for his medical bills as he engrained himself to the club and was unleashed to the world.

His story continues to serve as an inspiration to the young and old from different parts of society, and especially to a New Jersey product who's conquered his own adversities, on and off the pitch as Messi did. Alec Aloia sat 12 rows back at Barcelona's famed grounds to see the magic that Messi produced on the free kick shot that bended around Liverpool's wall of players.

The Branchburg, N.J. native witnessed history but also added another chapter to his own courageous account. Aloia had to work heavily in his early playing days on the pastures of beautiful Somerset County against elite competition in a state that's produced a deep talent pool. Aloia has been described as tenacious, willing to put in the dirty duties asked of coaches, to add that extra effort for coverage and security.

And here he was, at one of the most prominent stadiums in the world, to observe top world players in a competition at the highest level. Aloia achieved a pass to this glamorous city after several local Barcelona clubs took interest after viewing tapes of his achievements on the field.

The 19-year-old now enjoys his days training, attending classes and embarking on touristic journeys to know his new hometown. But beginning this expedition wasn't easy at first. His status as a foreigner in an established setting may have rubbed some local players the wrong way, especially with Alec being from the U.S., where misconceptions about soccer continue to allay.

He's settled in quite nicely, his father, Ray Aloia, said, besting the language barrier that is usually a main factor in uneasiness over assimilation.

"It's a testimony to him to go to a culture he knew nothing about," Mr. Aloia added. "He got good feedback, lots of compliments from players and coaches, but it was definitely an uphill battle for him being an American [abroad]."

One of the finer aspects of the younger Aloia's personality traits that most likely contributed to his adaptability to the Spanish culture is ambition. Alec's drive to not only better himself comes from a disability he's suffered known as auditory processing disorder, which is medically defined as a hearing problem that affects up to 7% of school-aged children, according to WebMD. To be more specific, the brain doesn't compute the meaning of what's said, which affects what kids would process hearing.

"Alec operates on a visual basis and he may not articulate ideas as you or I because he processes information differently," Mr. Aloia said, adding that it hasn't been an easy path academically but that Alec has always achieved an A average, despite difficulties. How? Once he started playing soccer at a young age, it became evident that the game was exactly what Alec and his family needed.

Alec brought those information-processing skills on the field to the classroom when he was around 12 or 13 years old, giving him more confidence with teachers and coaches. Not being able to verbalize his thoughts was a frustrating process and led to some bullying, but eventually mastering his capabilities taught the Aloia family a good lesson in perseverance.

"You would never notice anything," Tony Bednarsky, who coached Alec and a legendary coach in the New Jersey soccer scene, referring to Alec's disorder. "He's one of the hardest-working players I've seen."

What he lacked in stature, he made up in tenacity, Bernarsky added, and that gave Alec a nice package of attributes on the field to offset any limitations that could have affected his play.

Bednarsky recalls him being a full-out, box-to-box player who was versatile enough to play at most positions to help the team. But best of all, Alec was "very likable" and "determined."

The longtime Gill St. Bernard's School coach isn't surprised at Alec's success and expects more opportunities for him down the line. Alec's father agrees and boasts of his son's future plans.

"Alec wants to continue in the soccer realm and work with a club or college," Mr. Aloia said. "He is driven and that's the power of sports -- he developed a passion for the game and that's translated to the classroom."

Alec's story is a timeline of persistence, of dedication and devotion. His narrative should serve as an inspiration to all striving to reach their respective goals. Alec is an example of positive energy and justice for youth players to digest and embark on plans for next season. New Jersey should be proud of its native son representing its soccer in one of the most famous soccer settings in the world.