Angel of inspiration
Rolling a shopping cart down the street filled with all the clothes and personal items she needed, Angel Rodriguez didn't know what was next in store.
Was this rock bottom? Would life improve for the teenager?
Really, it couldn't get much worse.
Rodriguez's mother had attempted to keep the family's apartment but gambling and drug addictions clouded her judgment. The family was getting evicted.
"They gave her like three hours to get everything out of her apartment and they didn't know what they were going to do, where they were going to go," family friend Lamesha Thi said. "My daughter's like, ‘Mom, she'd be better living here.'"
Asia Thi, who is friends with Rodriguez at Johansen (Modesto, Calif.), had a point. The Thi family welcomed the Rodriguez with open arms. The three-sport standout and scholar has responded with an inspiring demonstration of perseverance and why she was awarded the Semper Fidelis Athlete of the Month, presented by the Marines.
She’ll have the opportunity to attend the Battles Won Academy in Washington, D.C. this summer.
That didn’t seem remotely possible on eviction day last October. It was a long half-mile walk from the old apartment to the Thi residence. It was a sobering moment in Rodriguez's life.
"Drugs have been a recurring issue in my family and it's always gotten the best of certain family members that I have," said Rodriguez, who is now 16 years old. "It's caused my living situation to be in jeopardy multiple times in my life. As I got older, I realized I did have other options and I didn't have to continue to live the way I was living. Lucky for me, I have a very understanding group of friends."
While staying with the Thi family, Rodriguez's mother went out one night and didn't come back. Eventually, Rodriguez's step dad took her three sisters and two brothers to the shelter Gospel Mission where they are currently living. Rodriguez stayed with the Thi family.
"I had to put my big girl pants on when I was pretty young. … if I give up, what kind of example does that set for my younger siblings?”
Rodriguez's rocky journey has had a positive impact on her life.
"She's definitely stronger this year," Johansen softball coach Tony Harper said. "She's got her living situation a little more stable. It's a challenge for her every day."
Rodriguez stays in touch with her 32-year-old mother, who is living with her new baby's father. She's working to stay sober and find a job.
"She's trying to just get back on her feet so that she can be the mother that she knows she can be for her kids," Rodriguez said.
Throughout this tumultuous time, Rodriguez has stayed strong. It's forced her to grow up quickly and become a mother figure to her five younger siblings. It's been a real awakening.
"I definitely grew up at a young age, I had to," Rodriguez said. "I had to put my big girl pants on when I was pretty young. It's taught me a lot. It's taught me to constantly persevere. It's taught me that I have other people looking up to me and if I give up, what kind of example does that set for my younger siblings?"
Said Harper: "She's had to be put in situations where it's sink or swim and she's made some good choices. I hope she's learned from those choices that she continues to make those because so far, so good. I really like that."
With so much uncertainty in her life, Rodriguez has still been able to push through in school and athletics. The junior is a starter in three sports at Johansen and holds a 3.7 grade point average while taking three Advanced Placement courses this semester.
"She's just very determined," Thi said. "She's going to be the first one to graduate out of her family."
Rodriguez is good at keeping everything in perspective.
"I know that if I don't make it college sports wise that I always have academics to fall back on," Rodriguez said. "It gives me that sense of release. It takes the weight off of your shoulders because you know that if you're not going to succeed in one, you're going to succeed in the other."
Rodriguez has started the last two years in both on volleyball, as a right-side hitter, and in basketball as the point guard.
Currently in softball, Rodriguez has had a strong start to the season.
After starting in the outfield last year — primarily in center field — Rodriguez shifted to shortstop this season. That's the position she started as a freshman. Rodriguez has thrived moving back into the infield.
"I'm very quick; I'm agile," Rodriguez said. "I'm a fast learner and I never get down on myself. I'm always ready to improve and make myself better."
Harper has watched Rodriguez progress nicely this season.
"Probably more in her mental game than anything else," Harper said. "She was a good athlete last year but now she's starting to figure it out in her head how the game is played -- where she needs to be, the speed of the game, that kind of stuff. She's all around better this year."
As the team's leadoff hitter, Rodriguez is relied on as the table-setter for her team and make a presence on the base paths.
Harper said Rodriguez is a little overaggressive sometimes at the plate but he likes her approach.
"If she settles down, her swing is really good," Harper said. "She's got a good, level swing; she makes contact almost every time."
While keeping solid grades in school, Rodriguez is extremely active in organizations. She was handpicked to be a member in Leadership Plus. The group is a collection of the best leaders in the school and it's their responsibility to find ways for the students to get closer to their community.
Rodriguez's favorite activity is being a part of the Black Student Union (BSU) at Johansen. She was the club's secretary as a sophomore and this year she's honored to be the president.
"In the beginning of the year, we mainly prepare for Black History Month," Rodriguez said. "That whole month we're constantly doing activities: putting posters up, making posters, things like that. The last couple months of the year was do a BBQ fundraiser. We're always promoting BSU and telling everybody how great it is."
Being so busy in school and athletics doesn't leave a whole lot of time for Rodriguez to spend at the Thi residence. She's really enjoyed living with the family and they've been gracious hosts.
Rodriguez is hoping her mom gets her life back together and her family can be reunited again. But she knows some things are out of her control. Regardless, she remains positive.
"I always just try to keep a smile on my face to make other people happy and I sometimes forget I have emotions, too," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes I'll keep a lot of things bottled up and when I let it out it's pretty rough."
Despite all the curveballs that life has thrown at Rodriguez, she's stronger for having dealt with the adversity.
Rodriguez feels her story is important to tell. She doesn't shy away. Not for a second.
"I'm not ashamed of what I've gone through because I know there's a lot of people in this world that have gone through worse and they still have it worse," Rodriguez said. "To me, I have it good right now. I'm never ashamed to speak on anything I've gone through and if anybody asks any questions, I'm always ready to answer them. It's something that just comes with struggling through life."