West Linn's Destiny Rodriguez lets her wrestling do the talking
At first glance, Destiny Rodriguez doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.
But while the soft-spoken 14-year-old from West Linn may not look it, she's a budding Olympic wrestler.
Destiny, who will be a freshman at West Linn High School in the fall, won a world title at the U15 World School Combat Games in Budapest, Hungary, in June.
Though she's apprehensive to elaborate on her own abilities or accomplishments, she was clear about her goals for high school — "To win four state titles."
This declaration might seem ambitious, but Rodriguez said it as easily as someone mentioning what kind of car they drive (though Rodriguez is still years away from being able to drive). There was no bragging — it is just her expectation.
Rodriguez — who previously won gold in the 58-kilogram division (approximately 128 pounds) at the Pan American Games in Villahermosa, Mexico, in September — said she also expects to wrestle in college, and later, in the Olympics.
Destiny's father wrestled in high school and Destiny followed in his footsteps starting at age 7. She took to the sport right away.
"I love every part of it," she said.
Following her win in the Pan Am Games, Rodriguez won another gold in the 66-kilogram division (approximately 145 pounds) in Budapest.
Asked if she expected to win the world championship, she responded in a straightforward manner — "Yes."
But that manner is exactly what epitomizes the teenage phenom — she doesn't see herself as inherently better than her contemporaries; she simply sees herself as a 14-year-old girl who, like many her age, is excited and nervous for her freshman year of high school.
She just happens to be a world-class athlete on the side.
Rodriguez, who paints in her free time and plans to play volleyball at West Linn, also loves to hang out with her little brother at the pool in their family's housing complex. Destiny's mother, Veronica Rodriguez, added that Destiny's report cards are filled with As and Bs.
Destiny's talents become even clearer when speaking with her coaches. Kevin Keeney, Destiny's coach at All-Phase Wrestling Club in West Linn, didn't shy away when asked about the talented teen.
"Destiny has earned every accolade she has ever accomplished, including the world championship. She outworks the competition," he said.
Keeney went on, saying "No other wrestler in the world at her age puts in the time or the mental and physical effort that she does, and it showed in Budapest," he said. "America is lucky to have Destiny Rodriguez represent the United States at international competitions and Destiny competes in the red, white and blue with a lot of honor and pride. We are so proud of Destiny and know this is the beginning of many world and Olympic medals."
Destiny will compete for West Linn this year in the Oregon School Activities Association's co-ed wrestling division. West Linn head coach Doug Samarron expressed excitement to have her competing for the Lions.
"(Destiny) is well respected and will make a great addition to the West Linn program next year," he said. "Hopefully, she is a catalyst to other young girls wrestling in our community."
Rodriguez will likely be the only girl wrestler at West Linn, but she is unfazed by that possibility.
"Is it weird going to the mat room and being the only girl amongst a crowd of boys?" she was asked. "No, not really."
Veronica Rodriguez added that "There's a mutual respect for her. … They all see her not as a girl or different, but as a wrestler and that she is there to wrestle."
While Destiny may be the lone female wrestler at West Linn High School next year, she is by no means alone on her journey. She sometimes trains at All-Phase with three-time West Linn state champion Sean Harman, a recently graduated senior who was named the West Linn Tidings Athlete of the Year and will wrestle at the University of Missouri this fall.
Destiny's father noted that both Samarron and Keeney have worked to accommodate Destiny, sometimes opening their wrestling rooms so she could come in at odd hours to train.
"We have been so blessed and fortunate with the wrestling community that has surrounded Destiny from the beginning," Veronica Rodriguez said. "Coaches, parents, practice partners, family and friends, none of her success would be possible without them."
Reflecting on one of the high points in her young career, Destiny doesn't focus on her accomplishments, messages of support or media inquiries. Instead, what she remembers about the world championships in Budapest was the smell of the city. Yes, the smell.
"It smelled really bad," Rodriguez stated.
Though the smell was unpleasant, traveling has been one of the highlights for the Rodriguez family during Destiny's career.
"Her favorite part of being at this level is the travel itself, getting to see new places that she's never seen and learning about other cultures," Veronica Rodriguez explained. "Another bonus has been all of the new friendships from other states and other countries."
The family regularly keeps up with Destiny's teammates by watching their tournaments online. Veronica Rodriguez jokingly said "We'll log in to watch teammates and just spend almost the whole day watching (wrestling matches) online."
While having a world-class athlete in the family can pose some challenges, the Rodriguez family works hard to keep its focus. Destiny has started to help at her wrestling club (including work with her 7-year-old brother), first assisting Keeney at All-Phase practices, and this fall, by helping after her high school practices.
Destiny's parents emphasize the support that has come from All-Phase Wrestling Club and the Tyrone S. Woods Wrestling Foundation. Destiny can continue competing internationally with Team USA all the way to the senior level.
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