Collegiate Senior Balances Cross Country and Science

Jorge Rodriguez, Photo courtesy of Cedar Hill ISD

Jorge Rodriguez, Cedar Hill Boys Cross Country Team Captain

A pair of red & black Cedar Hill Longhorn socks tell the story of success, strategy, pride and hope. And maybe a little bit of superstition and luck, too.

The proud owner of these socks is Collegiate High School senior Jorge Rodriguez, the captain of the Cedar Hill Boys Cross Country Team.

“I pull the socks up to my calf and know that I’m representing Cedar Hill,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really special. Once I put these socks on, I can’t be afraid anymore. I need to go compete for Cedar Hill at that point.”

The 17-year-old senior will play music during the bus ride to the meet. Upon arrival, the music comes to a soothing halt.

“I take my headphones on, I breathe in and breathe out, and then, I appreciate the course where I’m about to compete,” Rodriguez said.

The culmination of Rodriguez’s four-year varsity career is set to reach a critical point this week. If he finishes in the Top 10 of the Class 6A-District 11 Meet on Friday morning, he’ll qualify for the UIL Regional Meet next month in Dallas. The District Meet will be held at Lynn Creek Park in Grand Prairie.

Reaching regionals has been a goal ever since Rodriguez first donned a Longhorn uniform in the fall of 2017.

“It would mean the world – I’ve been running my entire life, and I’m looking for that one breakout race,” Rodriguez said.

But his focus on regionals has especially come into focus during 2020. When the COVID-19 Pandemic struck in March, Rodriguez was still able to keep his training regiment of anywhere from 30 to 60 miles per month, because running is an individual sport.

But the Pandemic prevented Rodriguez from showcasing his track & field talents in the one and two mile events.

“I was preparing to make a big splash for the college recruiters,” Rodriguez said.

Making things more difficult, the 2020 cross country season was condensed by about four meets due to COVID-19 – both the postponement of the season by a month. Then, the team was forced to quarantine earlier this month – which resulted in withdrawing from another meet.

Rodriguez said he’ll go to college next year, thanks to the Dallas County Promise. It would sure be a great bonus though if he could compete in cross country and track for UT-Arlington.

Qualifying for regionals would allow him to run in front of the UTA Coaches as the regional meet will be at the Mavericks’ home course.

Regardless of what happens on Friday, Cedar Hill Boys Cross Country Coach Katherine Neale said Rodriguez has been an excellent team leader for the Longhorns.

“He’s very committed – as an individual runner and as a senior captain,” Neale said. “He holds his teammates accountable. He heads that up and takes full responsibility for it. They aspire to be like him.”

Neale said Rodriguez earned the respect of his teammates because of his work ethic.

“He backs up what he says,” Neale said. “He would never tell a teammate to do something that he himself wouldn’t do. He has the fastest times on the team, so they think ‘what is he doing differently? and ‘What can I do to be like him’?”

Path to Collegiate

Even though he’s a lifelong Cedar Hill resident, Rodriguez had always attended private schools.

Shortly before his freshman year, Rodriguez’s mother learned about CHISD’s Collegiate Pathway through one of his sister’s friends.

The opportunity to earn an Associate’s Degree and begin college as a sophomore or junior was very appealing to him.

“It was a better education than the private school, and it’s free,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez had always enjoyed athletics, competing in multiple sports. But while his basketball teammates enjoyed the 3-pointers and his swimming friends liked the butterfly, Rodriguez found purpose in the conditioning purpose of each sport.

It drew him to running. In the summer, he’ll train up to 60 miles per week in the sweltering Texas heat. You may find Rodriguez at the Trinity Bridge in Dallas or going up and down the terrain at Cedar Ridge Preserve, which he says is close to simulating a race. He’ll do speedwork on the tracks at Cedar Hill High School and Permenter Middle School.

Rodriguez soon discovered that it takes a disciplined and committed person to balance competing in varsity athletics, while taking a full slate of college level courses.

In order to excel academically and athletically at a high level, Rodriguez has sacrificed hobbies and a social life. He’ll train for three hours. That means the weight room and calisthenics, in addition to getting the miles in each day.

Studying surpasses exercise; Rodriguez hits the books for an average of five hours per day.

“Relaxing is my hobby, whenever I have a few minutes to relax,” said Rodriguez, who is one of top boys cross country runners who attends Collegiate.

Rodriguez is currently doing online Flex Learning, both through CHISD and Cedar Valley College, and he said that has helped with time management.

Collegiate Dean Benjamin Hairgrove said Rodriguez has been a great ambassador for the school, both academically and athletically.

“He is a leader with his peers, and his professors at Cedar Valley College are impressed by him,” Hairgrove said. “He is a perfect example of striving at sports while also pursuing very high academic goals. I am honestly excited to see his future unfold.”

Career Goals

Rodriguez has always liked science, but he has zeroed in on a very specific career choice. He credits the COVID-19 Pandemic with helping him make the decision to become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA).

He learned that there’s a national shortage of CRNAs.

“CRNAs can travel, go around the state and the country,” Rodriguez said. “I had never heard of it before, but realized that it is an in-demand field.”

He’ll begin college as a junior with plans on earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.

“UTA has one of the best nursing programs in Texas,” Rodriguez said.

‘Running is 60% Mental’

Rodriguez estimates that 60 percent of competing in cross country is mental. He spends a considerable amount of time thinking about the strategy at each course. While adrenaline may inspire runners to go full speed, from the get-go, Rodriguez knows it’s not that simple.

“At most meets, the two fastest guys will go out,” Rodriguez said. “Numbers 3 through 8 will try to keep up with them. They’ll fall behind. My job is stay to behind and let them carry me. That’s when I make my move to distance myself from the pack. You have to let everyone else get tired.”

Of course, weather and course conditions can make it more complicated.

Last week, the Longhorns were set to compete at the Pre-District Meet in Mansfield at 8:30 a.m. Due to rain, it was postponed by four hours.

“We sat on the bus and got something to eat,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone was nervous, the course was muddy. I told them to relax. Yes, this course will be different than what we’re used to, and people are going to go out hard. I encouraged my teammates to conserve their energy for the parts of the course where it was muddy.”

The strategy proved to be successful as Rodriguez registered an eighth place finish.

Teammates rely on Rodriguez’s leadership and wisdom. He remembers being in their figurative shoes during his first two year with the program.

“As a freshman, I felt a huge responsibility on my shoulders to make regionals and I felt like I disappointed the seniors,” Rodriguez said. “As a sophomore, an injury during the meet kept me from competing well.”

Rodriguez said those memories, along with the multitude of miles and hours he’s trained, motivate him to earn that first trip to regionals.

“I realized early on that if I worked hard, I’ll make progress,” Rodriguez said. “I learned quickly that I’m not one of those people who just gets started and I’m immediately qualifying for State.”

Traditionally, running has been something that athletes in other sports loathe. One popular cross country t-shirt reads “Our Sport is Your Sport’s Punishment.”

So how enjoyable is it being a top-level cross country competitor who finished second at Duncanville last season and had a season-best time of 17:15 at Burleson earlier this month.

“Running 3.1 miles at a fast paced isn’t going to feel the best,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not supposed to. You have to accept that it will hurt. To get a medal or to place, you will have to be a little bit uncomfortable. But it’s mind over matter, and I focus on each new step, and hopefully, that leads to a top finish.”