Making a Splash

by Ileana Rodriguez
Ileana Rodriguez

Looking back, I can’t think of a time when swimming was not a part of my life. In 1985, I was born in Matanzas, Cuba, a beautiful small town. Living on the coast, the sea was a main source of recreation and enjoyment for locals, and as a result, learning to swim at a young age was critical for safety reasons. 

My parents taught us to swim for this same reason but also because they felt swimming was a valuable extracurricular activity. At around 6 or 7 I realized how much I enjoyed being in the water. At the same time, I was introduced to the Olympics and the actual sport of swimming. I trained for two years but then found myself overwhelmed by swimming and training so hard at such early age; I was ready to try something new--ballet. I danced for three years under the strict regime of the Cuban ballet school. During the third year, my body was not reacting normally to my training. I started to lose strength in my left leg. As a result, it was very difficult to use points and perform away from the dance bar. I had to seek medical attention and, as a result, learned that a disease known as Arterial Venus Malformation (AVM) was developing inside my body.

This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. At 13 years old, after six months of constant studies and going from one doctor to the other, I found myself in a wheelchair. I spent several months away from my native city. The return was very hard--the dancer had come back in a wheelchair--but there was only one thing I knew I could do with or without walking: SWIMMING. The sport became my way to enjoy myself and spend time with my friends without feeling any difference. In the water, I feel completely free!

After two years of rehab and facing the challenges of my country and culture, my parents decided to look for a second opinion in the United States. I arrived in 2000 with my mother. A few months later, we decided that this country was our new home. During my second year of high school here, I was invited by the swimming coach to join the team despite my disability. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience.

Soon after, college came. School became my time-consuming priority, and therefore I stopped swimming again. Yet even during my absence from swimming, my love for the sport and the Olympics never disappeared.
Swimming the backstroke
While doing rehab in Miami, I met a fellow physical therapy patient, Cheryl Price. She introduced herself and encouraged me to get involved in a Miami wheelchair tennis clinic.  My answer was, “If I ever do a Paralympic sport, it will be swimming.” I told Cheryl about my swimming experiences and how I was a very competitive swimmer. Cheryl was very delighted and thought I should train again, in an effort to qualify for the Paralympics. Two days after meeting, Cheryl emailed me all the information I needed to get in contact with Paralympics. Then after a big push from my sister and a good friend, I decided to go for it and get back into the water. 

This was the beginning of another journey that has taken me to the most unexpected places. I reconnected with Andrew and Belinda Philips, two coaches who met me while I was in high school and had showed interest in me. I asked them if I could join their team because I wanted to participate in a Paralympic game. They both believed in me. I started training in March 2007 and in December I was taken to my first race in Miami to find out my times. To the surprise of both myself and my coaches, I got the time required to participate in the Paralympic Trials, swimming the 50FR, on April 2008. That gave me three more months to qualify in more events. I was able to enter a total of four events.

After working hard and giving it my all, I raced in the April trials. I did not make the team, however I was still very successful. I broke the American Record in the 200M Breaststroke, but most importantly I decided that I was going to try again, now with more time and more knowledge about Paralympics.
Swimming the butterfly
Due to my results at this meet as well as some of other competitions during 2009 gave me the opportunity to be selected as part of the resident team in Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. I am currently living here. Iit has been a great experience and opportunity for me to try again to meet the goal of participating in the Paralympic Games in London, 2012. Look out for me there!

Throughout the years, swimming has given so much to me. Swimming has kept me motivated, provided much-needed relaxation after long hours at school, and it has helped me to stay disciplined and work hard at rehab. Now as I train to hopefully qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London, I’m at peace with where I am in my life. After all, this is just the beginning.

10 comments:

  1. I'm so proud of you!

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  2. Great story and I wish the best for you

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  3. That's a wonderful story! I hope many more people can read it. It's so inspirational!

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  4. I wish the best not because you deserve it but just because God love you much more than we all do!!!!!
    Pascual.

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  5. primita! soy Mariella, (Ecuador). I'm so proud of you and you set such a great example for being brave and never give up. I hope to see you soon to tell you in person how happy it makes me to know that in our family we have such a talented member. Love you so much! Success in the future!

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  6. Congratulations Ileanita, we are very proud of your achievements. Go for it...reach for the stars!
    Cariños,
    Dalsy & Nestor

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  7. Ileanita segura estoy que lo vas a lograr, eres una nina con mucha voluntad y te mereces eso y mucho mas !!!, te conoci dentro del vientre de tu mamita, eres como ella!!!, que Dios te bendiga, eres un angel.
    Leo

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  8. Te felicito mucho a ti y tu familia Ileanita. De verdad que eres un inspiracion para muchos de que cuando de verdad el corazon y alma quiere conseguir algo, solo tiene que tener el "Will Power" and luchar. Yo se lo mucho que has luchado y tambien tu familia. Don't ever stop till you reach your highest goal!!
    Take care, La otra Ileana(de LIVS)

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  9. De todas las muchachas jovenes que conozco, tu eres mi orgullo. te mereces todo lo que has logrado ya que con mucho esfuerzo y ganas te lo has puesto como meta. I love you and you know it.
    betty la fea! la valiente!

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