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Meet Wendell Alinea, Pacquiao’s official lensman

/ 12:44 AM November 03, 2016
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Leukemia survivor Wendell Alinea is the champ’s photographer. CONTRIBUTED

LOS ANGELES — On days that Manny Pacquiao is scheduled to enter the boxing ring, his photographer has a habit of going in beforehand to examine the indoor setting. He takes note of the kind of lighting available at the venue and adjusts the settings on his camera so he’s ready to shoot once the People’s Champ faces his opponent.

It’s not a practice anyone advised him to do, but something he learned on his own.

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Wendell Alinea joined Pacquiao’s team in 2012 and has documented the boxer’s fights and training sessions since then. He says he has been complimented for the “different” shots he has been able to capture but doesn’t think he has any talent in photography, even citing the fact that he nearly failed a photography class in college.

His newfound ability to capture still moments traces back several years ago, when he began what developed into a life-threatening battle against cancer in 2007. Following years of chemotherapy, news that his condition was incurable and then miraculously becoming cancer-free, Alinea says he learned to see life differently, which he believes is the reason for his “different” photographs of the People’s Champ.

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Grateful

“When you’re grateful, then you see the beauty in everything. Even if I’m photographing something like a fire extinguisher, there’s beauty in that,” he said.

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Alinea’s photograph of an IV drip at a hospital won second place in the Asia-wide IBM ASEAN smarter planet photo contest. WENDELL ALINEA

Alinea’s start in photography came in 2009 when he was undergoing chemotherapy to treat his leukemia. That year, his best friend gifted him an entry-level DSLR.

“Since he gave it to me – I mean, it’s no joke when someone gives you a camera, they’re expensive – I said I wouldn’t let him down, and I would be ashamed if I didn’t use the gift he gave me,” Alinea said.

With the side effects of his treatment, Alinea was without a normal job that year. So he spent time testing out his new camera, looking up tutorials on YouTube, snapping photos around his village and attending workshops at the University of the Philippines.

He made the decision to take photography more seriously after winning second place in the Asia-wide IBM ASEAN smarter planet photo contest for a black and white photo of an IV drip at the hospital.

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Some of Alinea’s photos of Pacquio in training. WENDELL ALINEA

“I honestly don’t know why that simple photo won,” Alinea said. “But that’s when I realized that maybe this is a sign from God, that I can pursue this field.”

With the money he won from the contest, he invested in additional photography gear and continued to practice his new skill.

Bad news

Alinea was hit with bad news in 2011 when he learned that his cancer had advanced to an acute stage. As a result, the only way he could be cured was through a bone marrow transplant.

“A bone marrow transplant was my last shot and that was really hard and it was very risky. But of course, that’s the hope I held on to,” Alinea said.

His siblings were his best chance for finding a match, but test results came back showing that none of them could be his donor.

Without a match, Alinea’s doctor released him from the hospital, temporarily withdrew his treatment and told him to enjoy his life. After having done everything he could at that point – from undergoing years of treatment and researching alternative cures – Alinea turned to his faith. He wanted to live a longer life, mostly for his then 7- and 12-year-old kids, but decided at that point to leave it up to the Man above.

“Usually when I prayed, it was very specific. I’d say, ‘God, I pray that the cancer cells go away, that every cell, every tissue, every organ in my body becomes normal.’ But at that time, all I said was, ‘Lord, it’s up to you. I can’t take it any more. There’s nothing I can do. Let your will be done.’ For the first time, I said that. I used to be scared to say that when I prayed because His will might have been that I go,” he said.

Pacquiao’s generosity

Alinea immersed himself in church and spent time with his family after he was dismissed from the hospital for two months. During his time back home, he sought financial assistance from a number of individuals for money to pay for his medication. Out of everyone Alinea approached, it was Pacquiao who agreed to give him the amount he needed to fund an alternative treatment called arsenic trioxide for the next three years.

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More photos of Pacquiao by his photographer. WENDELL ALINEA

During his time away from the hospital, Alinea’s doctor advised him to refrain from going outdoors because of his compromised immune system. But he went against those orders and devoted much of his time serving in church. While his body should’ve been deteriorating because his case of cancer was acute, Alinea said he felt like he was regaining his strength.

“And you might argue that that was psychological or some sort of spiritual high,” he said.

But after a blood count and biopsy, his results came back all clear in 2011; the same year Alinea’s leukemia was deemed incurable, he was pronounced cancer-free.

“That year happened so fast, so many things happened. When the doctor said it was all clear, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Shooting the champ

Shortly after he was cleared of the disease, Alinea shot photos of Pacquiao for fun around the time he fought against Juan Marquez for the third time. Then, he had them printed and gave them to the People’s Champ.

The following year while Pacquiao was training in Baguio for his first of three fights against Timothy Bradley, Jr., he asked Alinea if he wanted to become his photographer.

From then on, Alinea has captured stills of the world-famous boxer in his matches throughout the last four years, including his highly anticipated showdown against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in 2015. His photographs have been published in multiple outlets including Rappler, PhilBoxing.com and Manila Standard.

Working for the boxing champion has been a joyful experience for Alinea, who describes being part of the team as similar to being with a large group of friends. He also speaks highly of Pacquiao’s character.

“Manny is such a generous person, so nice and so forgiving. No matter how many times you screw up, he’ll forgive you. Even for serious mistakes — some people have stolen from him and he forgives them.

“He won’t leave you behind,” Alinea said.

In the weeks leading up to Pacquiao’s comeback fight on Saturday against Jessie Vargas, Alinea has been documenting his training sessions. Come the big day, he’ll be in Las Vegas capturing the punches Pacquiao throws in the ring.

After four years and counting as the boxer’s official photographer, Alinea has also undertaken the role of documenting Pacquiao’s role as a congressman. Immediately after Saturday’s fight, Alinea will fly back to the Philippines with Pacquiao, where he’ll continue photographing the People’s Champ in his role as a Philippine senator.

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TAGS: arsenic trioxide, IBM ASEAN smarter planet photo contest, leukemia, Manny Pacquiao, Pacquiao’s comeback fight, Pacquiao’s photographer, the People’s Champ, Wendell Alinea
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