Lilly was always athletically inclined and played different sports from a very young age. Over the years, she became passionate about playing softball and aspired to play softball in a top university. This required her to embark on an extraneous physical, mental and academic journey. She faced many challenges and adversities but learned to become a leader in and out of the field and traveled throughout the United States and internationally, such as Cuba to play softball. She also had the honor to play for Puerto Rico’s Junior Olympic team.
Lilly is thankful for all the opportunities that have come her way and the immense support and guidance her parents provided for her. She would like young athletes and Latina athletes like herself to have the same opportunities and support. Therefore, the idea and vision of ELLA was created.
Please share your early life experiences.
I’m a first generation Hispanic American, raised and born in Los Angeles, CA, with a multicultural background: Salvadorian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban. As a young Latina, I always dreamed of playing college softball in a top university. I began playing softball at the age of six. From the moment I held the glove in my hand, I felt a special connection to the game. As years passed, I played different sports, but overtime, I developed a true passion for softball. Being an athlete at a young age provided me with many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. When I was fourteen years old, I traveled to Cuba to play softball against the Cuban Olympic team and participated in a cultural exchange program. I represented Puerto Rico in the Junior Olympic National Team in the Women’s World Cup 19U Division when I was seventeen years old.
Playing sports from a young age has taught me work ethics, discipline, patience, and resilience. My parents always taught me that nothing in life is handed in a silver platter. However, this shouldn’t stop me from having dreams and setting goals because hard work pays off. As a daughter of an immigrant, I’ve learned to cease every opportunity that comes my way.
Greatest challenge you had to face growing up and looking back, what did you learn from it and integrate in your life?
One of the greatest challenges I faced growing up was the blatant inequalities in female sports. As a female athlete, I played baseball first due to the absence of softball teams within the league, until softball teams were made years later. In little league all-stars, our softball teams received hand-me-downs in comparison to the brand-new uniforms given to the baseball teams. We often competed in make-shift fields, while the boys played in stadium-like fields. It was inequalities like these that made me work harder to achieve my dream of playing at the highest level. It was an obstacle nonetheless, but it didn’t define me.
What are your proudest moments and why?
One of my proudest moments was being selected for the Puerto Rico National Junior Olympic softball team. This allowed me to play against different countries and represent my heritage at a competitive international level. I achieved my dream of committing and playing for a D1 Ivy league program, Cornell University. As the founder of ELLA, I am proud to give back to my Latina community by leveling the playing field for Latina athletes everywhere.
Based on your opinion and experience, why is it important to encourage young girls interested in sport to pursue it?
It is important to encourage young girls to pursue playing sports because it allows young girls a medium to imagine, aspire, dream, explore all possibilities, and to engage with other girls with similar passions, qualities, to develop leadership skills, and to be a team player. It also empowers young girls to aspire a TRUE, yes you can mentality by experiencing firsthand opportunities that sports can bring to their lives, which will ultimately impact their future.
What role does sport play in communities and female empowerment?
The main challenge facing the foundation today in the Latino community is the financial inequality that exists in the sports community. Along with the cultural misconceptions regarding educational advancements of Latinas in the United States. The foundation strengthens Latinas by developing strong Latina leaders that will impact their communities while establishing their own legacy through sports as they excel in life
The foundation is expanding relationships with the Latino community by increasing awareness and knowledge in leadership development and higher education through sports. There is a huge misconception among the Latino community about being able to afford private high schools and or top universities. The ELLA foundation works on bridging this gap of knowledge with the ultimate goal to create more educated Latinas in order to have a better outcome in life by breaking cultural conformities.
How has playing sports and accessing the opportunities contributed to who you are today?
Playing baseball, basketball, volleyball, and softball growing up allowed me to develop essential work ethics and skill sets. From a young age, these sports and being part of a team have taught me work ethics, discipline, patience, and resilience. Skills such as sportsmanship, time management, communication, discipline, leadership, etc. have shaped me into the woman I have become. Most importantly, these abilities reflect what is needed in the real world.
What challenges exist for the girls and women you serve?
The main challenge facing young girls today in the Latino community is the financial inequality that exists in the sports community, along with the cultural misconceptions regarding educational advancements of Latinas in the United States. You should always embrace your culture but never allow it to hold you back.
How did ELLA sports foundation come about?
Our Story ELLA, is Spanish for She, is the story of a young girl that played various sports from a young age. Over the years, she became passionate about playing softball and dreamed of playing softball at a top university. She embarked on a strenuous mental, physical and academic journey to finally achieve her dream.
Through her journey she realized the many disparities that Latina athletes face culturally and economically. ELLA wants young female athletes and Latina athletes like herself to have the same opportunities, but most of all, she wants all young female athletes to have the mentorship and support they need as they embark their own athletic, academic and professional journey. Thus, the vision and mission of ELLA was born!
What’s next for You and ELLA?
As we continue to bring awareness and support locally, we aim to expand nationally and internationally. One of our goals is to establish ELLA clubs in high schools all over the US. This will carry on our mission and vision to support young female Latinas to become leaders of tomorrow through sports and academic excellence. On the international scale, we strive to reach underserved Latina athletes in various countries and support their athletic and academic journey.