Army Staff Sgt. Rodriguez Provides Veteran Leadership to Team U.S. at Invictus Games
Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez participates in wheelchair basketball training at a gym in Fort Belvoir, Virginia prior to leaving for the Netherlands to compete in the Invictus Games. (Photo by MaryTherese Griffin) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — As Team U.S. athletes prepare to head to the Netherlands to take on other nations for the Invictus Games, Staff Sgt. Joel Rodriguez hopes to be a veteran presence that can keep the newer athletes focused on the goal and tune out the lights and cameras.

Rodriguez, who hails from Florida, came to Fort Belvoir with his teammates to train in the sports of wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair racing, swimming, shotput and discus April 8-13 before they head to The Hague. He knows all about competing in the Invictus Games, having done so when it was held in Sydney, Australia in 2018.

"The competition was extremely tough," he said. "I think that gives me an advantage as I already know what to expect. I know the lights and the cameras aren't going to get in my way. It's a little more normal for me now."

The games were originally set to be held in 2020, but were postponed to this year due to the pandemic. This is the first time these athletes are competing with each other, so it's crucial that they use this time to bond as a team.

Rodriguez estimates that about half the team is new to competing at this level

"We're definitely hoping to build out some chemistry and get the new guys mentally prepared," Rodriguez said. "I think everything comes down to training."

When asked what he was looking forward to the most, he said that while competition and camaraderie are a big part of the appeal, the main driving force was "definitely putting the red white and blue back on."