By RICARDO VAZQUEZ
January 20, 2000
Barely four years ago, world champion inline skater Jennifer Rodriguez
roller blades for a pair of speedskates and hit the ice -- literally.
"I had to put on these really long thin blades, and I was all over the
recalled Rodriguez. "I was slipping and sliding. I was skating really slowly and kind
of holding on to the pads around the outside [of the rink]."
Not surprising for a Cuban American athlete who grew up in
tropical Miami and whose experiences on the ice were limited
to family outings at the local skating rink.
That was until boyfriend and speedskater KC Boutiette
convinced her to bundle up and head for Milwaukee's Pettit
National Ice Center to take on a sport she had never
participated in before.
Her first embarrassing weeks on the ice, however, almost
made her change her mind. "Everyday I came home and I was
crying," said Rodriguez. "I was like, 'I hate it here, I hate the
cold weather. I don't want to be here.'"
Despite her frustration, Rodriguez kept working at it. Her
persistence paid off. "For some reason, after two weeks
something clicked," she said. "I wasn't slipping and sliding all
over the place, and I actually looked somewhat like a
speedskater...all of a sudden, I caught on. I figured out how to
Not only did Rodriguez catch on, but she became a
world-class speedskater. A little more than two years after
she first set foot on the ice, she won a spot on the U.S.
Speedskating Team that competed in the 1998 Nagano
Winter Olympics, solidifying her place among the world's elite
skaters. If that weren't enough, she finished fourth in the 3000
meter Olympic race, barely missing the bronze medal by 2.1
The daughter of a Cuban-born father and an American
mother, Rodriguez doesn't miss the irony of her
accomplishments on ice. "Growing up in Miami, I never
thought I'd be an iceskater or any winter sports athlete at all,"
she said. "Especially, from what I've been told, I'm the first
Cuban American to compete in the Winter Olympics. So just
to be that is pretty neat, just to know that of all these years, I'm
like, the only person to do that. I guess it's a pretty big feat I've
At 23, Rodriguez has become not only the first Cuban American, but
also the first Latina to compete as a member of the United States
Speedskating Olympic Team. And for some of that Rodriguez has her
parents to thank. After her first miserable experiences on the ice,
they encouraged her not to give up. "My parents said that I had to give it
one month," remembered Rodriguez. "'And if you don't like it
after one month, then you can come home,' they said."
Not that it was easy for Rodriguez, who already was a 12-time roller
skating champion and the only athlete to have won competitions in
both speed and figure inline skating. "So for me to come to Milwaukee
and to have to suck it all up, and to say 'hey you're terrible' and to start
from scratch, was really hard for me to do." After her impressive
performance at the Nagano Winter Games, Rodriguez now has her
eyes set on the 2002 Olympics. "Of course the goal is a medal at the
Olympics," she said. "I don't care what race it is. I would just like to
get a medal, and of course I would love it to be gold."
So would her parents, who have encouraged their daughter and cheered
her on through 16 years of inline skating, and now as a speedskater. For
her father, said Rodriguez, the possibility of an Olympic medal is
something that makes him even more excited since the sport qualifies as an
Olympic event, unlike inline skating.
"My dad would have let me do whatever sport I wanted to do," said
Rodriguez, "but I knew he always wanted me to be in an Olympic sport."
And both father and daughter seem single-minded in this quest. "Even
right now, when I have the world championships coming up in two
weeks, and the rest of the season to finish up...I'm still thinking 2002,"
For someone used to persevering, it makes sense that Rodriguez's
advice for young Latina athletes is "don't give up. Go out and try
whatever you can, util you find something you like and just stick with it,
and work your butt off."
Last change: January 20, 2000