perspectives - 2019
The inspiring journey to the Pam-Am Master Championships
Athlete: Jose Rodriguez
When I was a kid, I didn’t play a lot of sports. I only knew I enjoyed swimming and running. My parents enrolled me in different sports - soccer, baseball, tennis… but it was only during the summer, when I would take swimming lessons, that I felt like things clicked.
When I was 10 years old, I was swimming a few lanes away from the swim team in the local club of the neighbourhood (it had a very cool name: “Halcones Marinos” (Sea Hawks) where Ruben Narvaez was the Head Coach). There were multiple instances where Ruben and the other coaches insisted that I join the team, but I refused at the time.
In August 1999, after summer vacations, and when I was about to start school again, I agreed to do a single training session with the team. We were doing dry-land exercises when suddenly one of the girls said: “Don’t let the new one beat you”. This set me off right away, and I became hooked to the sport, with a desire to train and compete forever. When Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics were held, I had improved my times a lot, and I placed within the first 16 out of more than 40 competitors. I dreamt of going one day to the Olympics.
My teenage years were hard, and swimming is tough during that period. Everyone grows at different rates, and the guys that develop muscles the quickest and achieve a decent height had a huge advantage over the ones who did not. I remember at the time, looking at the results sheet of a 50 meter fly short course, where I did not place very well… At that age, I took this as an indicator that I had to do something else, so I gave up swimming for a while.
Later on, I entered the T&F team, only to have consistently gotten shin splints. I went back to the pool after 6-8 months with stronger legs and a growth mindset. I was starting college as an Engineer in Computer Science, and without a sport scholarship, my focus was on getting good grades to maintain the academic scholarship. Swimming was not a priority, but I continued to practice anyway.
I didn’t stop swimming or training since I finished college, but I didn’t take it as seriously either. I then moved on to compete in the Masters League locally every now and then. I combined cross-fit and gym to my training regime as well. From 2012 to 2014 I started to break my old personal records - I was much stronger and had much better technique, which I found motivating.
In 2015, I had the opportunity to go to Medellin’s Pan-American Master Championships. After my job took me there for a project, the pieces came together, and I was able to participate.
I met an incredible coach with very good swimmers and swam in one of the best pools in Bogota, before heading to Medellin. It was my first International Meet - the closest I had felt to being in the Olympics. It was a fantastic experience, I did my personal best in 50 meters breaststroke long course. My training continued and I kept swimming for some weeks in Bogota and later did a lot of cross-fit. It was just in front of the hotel I was staying and walking distance to the office where my project was.
At the end of 2016, I received notice Budapest’s 2017 World Master Championships. I immediately started to focus on it: The training I had to do, the flights and hotels I had to book, the saving I should have, etc. I planned everything.
On February 25, 2017, I was in Puerto Vallarta with some friends. I decided it was a good idea to go over-the-weekend to the beach, just 2 nights, to have some fun, and then return home. The sea was quite wild, waves were high, and almost everyone was out enjoying the sunshine - just people in about knee deep near the shore. That was as close as many of them go. I did have a couple of beers and I felt brave enough to get inside the sea. Well, after a few in-and-outs of the sea, one wave hit me so hard that suddenly one of my legs made contact with the sea-floor. It felt as if I had done a pistol squat with over 400 pounds! My knee popped. I still don't know how I got out of the sea, I had to endure a couple of waves more before I got to the shore. I was able to walk, even though, deep inside me, I knew something was really wrong and it was: Right ACL tear, 2nd degree bruise on my MCL, and damage to my menisci. I was out of the Master World Championships.
I really couldn't believe this happened to me, I spent the whole night crying about this. My dream crushing into pieces, I didn’t know what to do. My doctor, told me that if I had a perfect recovery, I would be still able to make it. So I bet everything on those words, and kept going with the plan to go to Budapest.
Recovery was hell for me. I won’t lie to you. It has been one of toughest challenges life had put me in. During this time, my job was becoming boring, I couldn’t do anything after work, I felt like death. I remember many people telling me to quit swimming when I was younger, saying phrases like “You aren’t going to live out of it”. It was not giving me money, that’s for sure - but it was fuel for my soul, and my life, which I think is far more important. Movement is life, dreams are life!
During my recovery, I lost hope many times. I asked myself a lot of questions. If my job was not fulfilling to me, and if my swimming dream was really over, what was going to fuel my life again? I changed my job, and moved out to Guadalajara. There, I found a Swim Club named “Carril4tro”(Lane 4, the fastest lane in a final) and, I met Coach Sergio Fonseca. He and my physiotherapist changed my mind, they were able to reignite the dream inside of me.
At 4 months post-op, I could walk quite a bit, run very little (less than 100 meters) and regain most range of motion. While recovering, I never quit swimming, I just couldn’t kick properly because I was really afraid of something going wrong if I tried to kick hard. I was just 3 weeks away from the Championships, and by 1 week prior to the Championships, I could confirm that I really could jump off the blocks. I was ready to go!
Obviously, at 5 months post-op, a 50 meter free was not going to go as well as I could imagine. However, I didn’t place last in my heat, nor the meet. I only did 0.90s above my personal best at that time. I couldn’t believe I flew over the Atlantic Ocean just to swim for 29.35 seconds!
My recovery and training continued in Guadalajara - the next meet was the Mexican Short Course Master Nationals. I still was not very confident on swimming Fly or Breaststroke, so I only did Freestyle events. I beat my personal record in the 100 freestyle from youth by about 2 seconds!
From those Nationals onwards, I haven’t stopped. In 2018, I broke almost all of my personal records in events like the Orlando’s 2018 Pan-American Master Championships, and Mexican Master Nationals. My last milestone on the recovery road was to perform a pistol squat. Back when I had the surgery, I would only say I have recovered fully after I being able to do a pistol squat again.
Thanks for reading up to here. This likely means you want to change, you want to recover! Don’t ever lose sight of your goal. Recovery ain’t easy, but nothing ever worth in life is easy. You will learn a lot from this experience, and ultimately you will come back stronger!
Thank you Jose for sharing your story to inspire athletes across the globe. We wish you all the best in your recovery!