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Veteran heroes inspire sports community

Veteran Daniel Rodriguez plays for Clemson now.  (AP Photo)
Veteran Daniel Rodriguez plays for Clemson now. (AP Photo)

As kids, we often look up to heroes in the sports community as people who score the most points, throw for the most yards or hit the most home runs.  However, with this week marking Veteran’s Day, I wanted to talk about two real heroes among the sports community.

The first hero is Daniel Rodriguez, a wide receiver at the University of Clemson.  But Rodriguez is not just a normal football player.  His path to the gridiron wasn’t an ordinary path.

After having a solid high school football career at Brooke Point High School, he followed one of his dreams and enlisted in the U.S. Army. During his time in the army, he served time on combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, he fought in the Battle of Kamdesh. This was an extremely violent confrontation in which eight Americans were killed by Taliban forces and many others were injured, including Rodriguez. As a result of his efforts in the battle, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal of Valor.

When Rodriguez returned to the U.S., he decided to chase another dream of his — playing college football. He originally enrolled in Germanna Community College where he asked a friend to help him make a recruiting tape. In this tape, he told his story and displayed some of his athletic gifts through various avenues. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was a big fan of Rodriguez after watching his video, but Rodriguez wasn’t looking for a handout. All he wanted was a chance to walk on somewhere, and Swinney decided to give him that chance.

Rodriguez achieved his dream when he made the Clemson roster, but wasn’t merely satisfied with being on the team. He wanted to help his team win games and make the most of his playing career. Since making the team, he has played in every game. Most of his playing time has been on special teams, but he’s had a decent amount of time at receiver. The peak of his playing career was when he scored a touchdown on Military Appreciation Day against The Citadel.

Rodriguez has received many college football awards linked to his incredible pre-football accomplishments. He says that everything he does on the field is in memory of his comrades that were lost on that day in Afghanistan. He keeps his Orange Bowl rings next to his Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal to reiterate these memories, and they remind him to keep fighting for all those who lost their lives and those that helped him get where he is today.

The second hero is Kyle Carpenter. After a successful high school football career, he enrolled in the Marine Corps, and he was deployed to Afghanistan.

While on guard with one of his fellow marines, his camp was berated by grenades. When the rest of the platoon noticed what had happened, they saw him covered in blood and realized that he had jumped on his fellow marine to block the blow of the grenade.  He was quickly airlifted to a safer area when he was revived multiple times.

When he was eventually brought to the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C., he was placed into a medically- induced coma. When he finally awoke weeks later, he had to go through tons of rehab. He lost one of his eyes and had several fractures all throughout his face and body. Even while fighting for his life in the hospital, he had a dream to run a marathon.

After two and a half years of intensive rehab in the hospital, he went home and began to train.  During his time at home, he received a call from President Obama that he had been chosen to receive the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

He is only the second living Marine to receive this award since the Vietnam War.  Then, he finally achieved his goal of completing a marathon in the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon.

Both of these men are tremendously inspirational and are real heroes in the world of sports. On this Veteran’s Day, we should take time to salute them.


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