By Sharon Robb
PEMBROKE PINES, May 22, 2020—For eleven years, Rafael Rodriguez had the drive, dedication and passion it took to be a swimmer at South Florida Aquatic Club.
Rodriguez, 18, a recent Pembroke Pines Charter graduate, is headed to Purdue to study engineering and continue his competitive swimming career.
Rodriguez forged friendships and memories at SOFLO that will last a lifetime.
“I think what I will remember the most is all the relays I swam with my friends in Bronze and JOs,” Rodriguez said. “I won a lot of relays with a group of friends who are still my friends. Going on road trips like nationals was really fun. I really liked all the travel meets with the team.”
Rodriguez was a member of Florida Gold Coast record-breaking relay teams in 11-12. He went on to do well at JOs, Seniors, Summer and Winter Juniors, Zones, Futures, Open Water and high school meets. He is ranked among the Top 25 swimmers in the state in several events. He earned a $1,100 Senior Commitment & Loyalty Scholarship from the Comets Swim Team Booster Club, Inc. ($100 per year as a SOFLO student-athlete).
“It’s been super fun,” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t have asked for any better sport to do.”
Before he discovered his love for swimming, he competed in soccer, basketball and baseball.
“But for whatever reason I got into swimming lessons and really enjoyed it,” Rodriguez said. After taking lessons with Coach Luis, Rodriguez quit all his other sports at age 7 to focus on swimming.
“I think it was I really liked the water,” Rodriguez said. “It’s one of the hardest sports to keep up with. I’m really competitive and it was the hardest thing I could do, so I stuck with it.”
Rodriguez knew he had potential when he broke his first FGC record in the 1,000. “That’s when I started to push myself harder physically and mentally,” he said.
Rodriguez credits SOFLO CEO and head coach Chris Anderson for playing a key role in his success.
“I think I will miss Coach Chris yelling at me the most,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “It was a loving yell. I had some rough patches at some meets. I swam really, really bad at Summer Juniors. There were times I would get in my head to quit and move on, but Coach would always fix my mind. He wouldn’t let me quit. He knows how to push my buttons the right way. He made me become a better swimmer and better person. I will always appreciate that.”
Rodriguez has been staying fit with SOFLO’s Zoom workouts. He’s been keeping his mind sharp by not focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, choosing instead to stay distracted with doing dryland and playing basketball and video games. He also is planning to talk with SOFLO’s younger swimmers to help motivate them once they return to the pool. “I’ve just been doing a lot of stuff to keep busy,” he said.
Rodriguez is looking forward to the next chapter in his life. He hopes to make an impact his freshman season, but college campuses are still in a state of flux whether they will open in the fall.
“I think my college coach is figuring out what is going to happen and what’s going on in the world right now,” Rodriguez said. “I really like the school and I talked to the coach a couple times and we really connected.”
Former SOFLO teammate and Canadian national Lance Lesage, who still has one year left at St. Thomas Aquinas, verbally committed to Purdue and will join Rodriguez in the fall of 2021. “It’s nice to know someone will be there that you have known for a really long time,” Rodriguez said.
While he was able to graduate last week from Pembroke Pines Charter (observing six feet of distancing, of course), where he has attended since kindergarten, he was “bummed” that he missed Grad Bash at Orlando theme parks with his schoolmates.
It will be bittersweet for Rodriguez when he leaves for college in August and says good bye to SOFLO teammates and coaches.
“I am going to miss everybody,” Rodriguez said. “I hope to come back and train during school breaks. I am super happy with what I have been able to accomplish so far and I hope to do more in college.
“My goals are to get a college degree and I want to make NCAAs and final there,” Rodriguez said. “I want to help the team do well. Whatever Coach wants me to swim I will be fine with.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com