Four-time Olympic speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez, a Miami native and the first Cuban-American to compete in the Winter Olympics, will be inducted into the U.S. Speedskating Hall of Fame Friday in Salt Lake City.
Rodriguez, who turns 43 on Saturday, made her Olympic debut in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Winter Games. Four years later, at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, she won bronze medals in the 1000 meters and 1500 meters. She went on to compete at two more Games in 2006 and 2010.
“Learning that I was being inducted to the Hall of Fame this year, literally brought tears to my eyes,” said Rodriguez, who now lives in Maryland. “I am so humbled and honored to be able to receive this recognition. So many people have contributed to my success over the years, and this is for them as well.”
Rodriguez was one of the first inline speed skating world medalists to transition to speed skating on ice.
“Jen was one of those dream athletes who makes a coach love their job,” said U.S. Speedskating head coach Tom Cushman. “You could give her a workout and see her get better from that one training. You could ask her to make technical or strategic changes and she could make those changes in the next workout or the next race. Even though she was a tenacious competitor, she was a humble and kind teammate. Everyone liked being around Jen, her teammates, her staff and coaches, even her competitors liked and respected her.”
After the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Rodriguez felt it was time to hang up the skates and pursue an education and a career. She enrolled at the University of Miami at the urging of former UM president Donna Shalala.
“I wanted to move on, and I knew my time with skating was up,” Rodriguez said at the time. “Most Olympic athletes don’t retire with a nice nest egg, so we have to start over.”
She graduated with a degree in Exercise Physiology in 2013.
“This was tougher for to me to accomplish than winning medals,” she told the Herald on graduation day. “I did sports my whole life and was always good at it. School never came easy for me. I was a B and C student in junior high and high school. I spent one year at FIU, but was just going through the motions.
“Now that I’m older, as old as some of my professors, I really wanted to learn the material. I worked really, really, really hard to earn this degree. I put all the energy and determination I had for skating into school. I put my whole life on hold to train for the Olympics, and then at age 32, I went back to living the life of an 18-19-year old, living with my dad, working a part-time job, being basically a poor broke college student for four years.”