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NEWS | Aug. 25, 2022

Wheelchair rugby is a family affair for one Soldier’s Family

By MaryTherese Griffin Army

 Spectators watching wheelchair rugby practice at the 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games expect to hear the chairs crashing together, see the collision of athletes and become mesmerized by the speed of the wheels.

What they didn’t expect to see during a Team Army practice was a mother and baby out on the court changing a tire after a collision. “There was a tire that needed to be changed and ‘mama’ was the person for the job,” said Liannie Rodriguez, with a laugh and one year old baby Leila in tow on her hip!

Liannie is married to retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez, a member of Team Army who took up wheelchair rugby after an accident left him a quadriplegic. “After I got hurt, I started doing wheelchair rugby right away and at the time I needed a caregiver with me everywhere I went. Liannie jumped in full force and learned fast and asked how she can help the team,” Rodriguez said with a big prideful grin. His bride learned how to change tires and fix rugby chairs and wheelchairs.

“She’s incredible!” he added. “If I’ve said it once I will say it again, she is one of the best if not the best wheelchair mechanic out there.”

Liannie said for years she’s been involved with Joel’s wheelchair rugby career and if it means taking care of wheelchairs or team members, she’s up for the task. “It’s what we do…rugby is a family affair for us and adaptive sports in general are as well, so it’s what we do as a team,” added Liannie. Team Rodriguez also includes their five-year-old son Elijah, whose whole life involves being a cheerleader for dad on his journey.

Part of Rodriguez’s journey to recover and overcome from a car accident eight years ago is through adaptive sports. The Warrior Games is an outlet offering wheelchair rugby, among many adaptive sports, and a competition between military services. The rugby rock star’s place on Team Army over the past six years has taken him around the world competing in Invictus Games in Australia and the Netherlands on Team U.S.A. It’s an accomplishment Liannie says at times leaves her speechless.

“There are no words,” she explained “To see him in his element is joyful. It’s all his worlds colliding. It’s Army before his injury, its army after injury, its adaptive sports, it’s competition and now its leadership for him.”

Rodriguez is in the middle of transitioning from competitor to coach in the wheelchair rugby arena. He plays for USA Rugby professionally and is now the coach instead of a player on Team Army in the wheelchair rugby competition at the 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“It’s a proud moment as a wife, as a caregiver, as a friend, as a family,” said the best wheelchair mechanic out there!