Perseverance pays off for Rodriguez
How many people would be motivated enough to spend their summer break working out with a personal trainer while having one foot in a cast? Would they spend more than a year away from the game, rehabilitating a wonky ankle just to return to the game they love?
For Christian Rodriguez, it was an easy decision to make.
“I was so eager to get back that I was trying to rush everything,” admitted Rodriguez.
“I still had my cast on and … I really tried to rush things to get ready for September.”
Rodriguez is a 21-year-old first-year forward with the Trinity Western Spartans hockey team.
His problems began in the 2012/13 hockey season with the Swan Valley Stampeders of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
A badly sprained right ankle in an exhibition game kept him on the sidelines for more than a week and when he tried to return to the line-up, it was obvious all was not well as he struggled to skate with his ankle heavily bandaged.
Rest did not help, so Rodriguez returned home to North Delta and after an examination was done on his ankle, he was diagnosed with a torn ligament, another that was stretched and one that was partially torn.
Through it all, he kept trying to play, but to no avail.
“It was honestly the toughest year of my life,” he said.
“When you hit the ice, you shouldn’t worry about your foot hurting or your balance. You should just be out there playing.”
“It got to the point where I was re-tying my skate every single shift just to get the stability that I needed on the one foot,” Rodriguez added.
“When it came to the point that I knew my season was over and I needed the surgery, it was really tough.”
As a 20-year-old, Rodriguez was in his final season of junior eligibility.
His original plan on returning from Manitoba was to re-join the North Delta Devils, the team he had played two and a half seasons with in the Pacific Junior Hockey League. But the team was going through a transition to new ownership and new coaches. There was an opportunity to join the Richmond Sockeyes — who went on to win the PJHL championship and the Cyclone Taylor Cup as provincial champs — but he was forced to pass on it knowing that he wasn’t physically able to help the team how he wanted to.
“When it came to that point and I knew my season was over and I needed surgery, it was really tough,” he said. “It was my last year (of junior), it is the year guys look forward to.”
Rodriguez had plans to continue playing hockey at the university level, so missing a full season wasn’t ideal.
“Once I got hurt, I didn’t know if any school would take me at that point,” he admitted.
There was as six month wait to get the surgery done and finally in June, doctors performed reconstructive surgery on his ankle. The timetable he was given was a four to five month rehab period.
“I was so eager to get back that I was trying to rush everything,” he said. “I still had my cast on and I was walking even before I had it off.”
A high school friend who now worked as a personal trainer, Jamie Wolff, would help him workout as Rodriguez dealt with his limited mobility.
But despite all his efforts — and feeling better — he was not ready for the Spartans first semester.
The biggest problem was that the two screws doctors inserted between his fibula and tibia would not be removed until December and they were restricting his skating ability.
“It was heartbreaking to know that I would miss half the season when I had worked so hard to be ready to get back,” he said.
There would be no ‘woe-is-me’ for Rodriguez however, as he continued working towards his goal.
“He loves the game and wanted to get back in the line-up as quick as he could,” said Spartans coach Barret Kropf. “He stayed teachable throughout the whole process, spent the extra time he needed in the gym and the film room, and stuff like that.”
Rodriguez’ perseverance paid off as he joined the Spartans for actual game action in January. He finished the season with a pair of goals in nine games in a fourth-line role.
At the end of the regular season last month, Kropf didn’t plan on having Rodriguez in the line-up for the post-season but the forward forced his hand.
“He just worked so hard in practice that I couldn’t leave him off the roster,” Kropf said.
“He is a guy that is aggressive and tenacious in the corners and not afraid to get in there and retrieve the puck.
“(And) he is a sponge, he wants to learn,” Kropf said
For his part, Rodriguez is just happy to be back on the ice.
“I really wanted to play and help the team, regardless of what role I was playing,” he said.
“But all of that is so minor compared to what has happened over the last year.
“I don’t think I will ever take for granted being able to play hockey anymore.”
“I even tell that to my teammates — things may be difficult but at least they have their health and all they have to do is keep working hard.”