By John Philip Wyllie
Growing up an avid sports fan, 15 year old Christian Rodriguez has long been seeking the right opportunity to play competitive sports. Those opportunities have been limited until recently however, due to a disability. Having just returned from Atlanta where he participated in the Second Annual AAASP-NDSA Soccer Shocker Weekend, it is apparent that Rod-riguez and wheelchair soccer are a match made in heaven.
Rodriguez was the youngest member of a 12-man adult wheelchair soccer team to represent San Diego in the 2005 National Indoor Wheelchair Soccer Championship February 19-21. While his team struggled, Rodriguez netted two goals and drew the praise of the tournament’s coaches for his skillful play.
Indoor wheelchair soccer is played with a goalie and five field players. Unlike outdoor soccer, the players in this sport primarily use their arms and hands to navigate down the court, pass the ball back and forth and shoot on goal. Each player has only three seconds to deliver the ball so the game is very fast-paced. And for safety’s sake, there is no hitting from behind.
“I mostly play point guard where I carry the ball up the court and distribute it,” Rodriguez said. “I like passing because that is how you make your teammates feel better about themselves and how you help your team grow.”
When he is not playing wheelchair soccer, Rodriguez attends Bonita Vista High where for part of the day he serves as a peer tutor in a physical education class that serves students with mental and physical challenges. His teacher, Charleen Love, recently praised his contributions there.
“Christian has a dual role in my class. He is here to help my mentally challenged students, but he also works out himself since this is his P.E. class. Christian is very positive. He is willing to take on any challenge and he doesn’t give up. He makes the best of whatever situation he finds himself in. I think it is great that even though we don’t offer wheelchair soccer here that he was able to pursue his love of sports and participate in it on his own,” Love said.
Not at all discouraged by his team’s difficult tournament debut, Rodriguez is planning to return next year.
“This was our first year (of adult competition). We had a lot of new players and we were playing under a new system. With this being my first year, I didn’t really know what to expect. We lost to Houston in our first game 9-3, but the team improved as we went along. Our final game was only a 1-0 loss, so I think we made a lot of progress. It was a basic learning experience.” Rodriguez said.
Even though he didn’t get the results he was hoping for on the scoreboard, Rodriguez considers the experience an overall success.
“It was great to see other people with disabilities that were not afraid to try and overcome them. I really enjoyed participating and it was cool to bond with my team.”
Rodriguez hopes that other local disabled athletes will sign up to play along with him.
“It is open to everyone, so if you are disabled don’t be afraid to get in a chair and play.” For additional information about indoor wheelchair soccer please contact team coach, Willie Lopez at (619) 213-2200 Ext. 218.