By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
MARINE CORPS BASE, QUANTICO, Va., June 27, 2015 – Retired Army Staff Sgt. Roy Rodriguez will compete for team U.S. Special Operations Command in the sitting volleyball playoffs tonight in at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games here, but he isn’t concerned with medals.
Rodriguez said he just wants to have fun.
In between his shot put throws during the June 23 field competition, he shimmied and wiggled to the beats played by the DJ. When his fellow competitors didn’t have a chair to use for their seated shot put and seated discus events, the former supply specialist made one for them out of one of the chairs he had built for himself.
“I wanted our competitors to be able to compete,” he explained. “These other chairs didn’t support their upper torso, since they’re a high paraplegic. Three of his fellow competitors were able to use it, and one of them earned a gold medal.
Rodriguez joined the Army in 1989 as a supply specialist and then became a multiple launch rocket system crew member. He also went to Airborne school and started serving with the 3rd Special Forces Group. He deployed to operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991 and to Iraq in 2003. He then went to Afghanistan in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. In 2010, he deployed to Afghanistan after he was injured.
“I went through a program called Continue On Active Duty -- it’s an exception to policy that gives you the ability, if you’ve got a special skill, … you can continue to serve,” he said.
Rodriguez said he lost his leg to a drunk driver, but he jokes that he lost it in a divorce. “The lawyer told me it was going to cost me an arm and a leg, but I got it for half off,” he quipped. “Seriously, I initially lost my foot, and then I lost the rest of my leg, to include the knee, due to infection. It’s about mid-thigh, so I still had enough residual limb to put a prosthetic on. I had six surgeries, and after the fifth one, I said, ‘Make this one count’ because they were chasing the infection and needed to get ahead of it. I was dying.”
Happy to be alive, Rodriguez said, he went through that dark time many wounded warriors go through, but he landed on acceptance.
“I went through the five levels of grief in about 15 minutes, and then it was like, ‘OK, I’ve got a new normal now, so I need to figure out what’s normal,’” he said. “I can’t run track any more, but I can sit in a chair and throw shot put or discus. I’m too big to fit in a racing wheelchair, but if the track were angled at about 45 degrees, I’ve got all these guys beat. Gravity’s my friend when it comes to that.”
Rodriguez said he ran cross-country and distance events in high school, and went to state-level competition. He also ran a few marathons. He said adaptive sports help him feel like an athlete again.
“They give me a goal and something to work toward,” he said. “I really like that we’re matched up based on our disabilities, so when I go up against another seated guy, I’m like, ‘We’re in competition now.’ This is the fun stuff. This is what I’m living for right now.
“And this isn’t about beating this guy or that guy, really, or beating the Navy or Army,” he continued. “It’s simply about having fun and doing your personal best, whether that’s a bronze [medal] or 10th place.”