Architecture alumna Ileana Rodriguez ’08, M.Arch ’11 will fulfill a childhood dream next week when she slips into the pool at the Aquatic Centre in London and competes for Team USA in the 2012 Paralympic Games. The two-time FIU grad expects to swim in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke events.
The Cuban native has spent the last two-and-a-half years living and training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs.
“It’s interesting. I’ve always thought of myself as ‘the little Cuban,’ but here I am training with the best athletes in the world. Sometimes it seems surreal,” said Rodriguez, shortly after being named to Team USA in July. “Michael Phelps was here the other day, and he was kidding around with me. I went back to my room and pinched myself.”
Rodriguez worked with her professors in architecture to complete her master’s degree after she made the move to Colorado. “I traveled to FIU at least twice a semester after moving out of state, and the last semester they made me come once a month,” said Rodriguez. “But it was worth it.” She calls architecture Professor Marilys Nepomechie “my mentor, my friend, my biggest supporter.”
Her life after the Games remains “a huge question mark.” While living at USOTC, Rodriguez put her education to work, collaborating with the U.S. Olympic Committee on renovations and an expansion of the Colorado Springs facilities. She’s hopeful that it may turn into something more permanent, but in the meantime she’s focused on London. Her family and friends will be in the stands cheering her on, including two friends from the School of Architecture.
Rodriguez had a taste of representing her country in 2011 when she competed in the Pan American Games. She’s looking forward to representing America again.
“I’m very proud to represent the United States,” she said. “This is the country that has given me the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I love Cuba, but I’m happy to represent the United States.”