Ileana Rodriguez grew up in Cuba, in the waterfront city of Matanzas, famous for its beaches. She swam in the bay, then became a swimmer with the city’s team. She left swimming to study ballet, but age 13 she developed a rare condition known as arterial venus malformation in her spine. Ileana could no longer dance or walk, and began using a wheelchair.
Shortly afterwards, Rodriguez and her family moved to the United States, a chance to begin over and expand her opportunities. She resumed swimming in high school when a coach asked her to join the team. “Are you sure?” she said. “I can’t walk.” Her coach responded, “I’m not asking you to walk, I’m asking you to swim!” Ileana was delighted to discover he was right: she could swim and she could win.
After putting her training on hold to earn a BA and an MA in Architecture from Florida International University, Rodriguez returned to swimming with a real commitment. She set a U.S. record in the 200m breast stroke in 2008, and has since moved to the Paralympics Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, to focus and compete year round. Rodriguez currently trains with the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Resident Team eight times a week and hits the gym twice a week as well.
“Along this journey I have had great people willing to help me,” Rodriguez says. She told MEDAL QUEST she particularly credits Paralympics swimming coach Dave Denniston for improving her breast stroke, one of her strongest events.
Ileana Rodriguez is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ileana.rodriguez.104
and on Twitter @IleanaRodrigu13. She also blogs for Team USA at http://www.teamusa.org/Bloggers-for-TeamUSA/Ileana-Rodriguez.aspx
and will be a featured athlete on MEDAL QUEST in July.