Interviews

From Iraq to the NFL: Veteran Daniel Rodriguez’s Amazing Story

Daniel Rodriguez’s amazing journey took him from the battlefield to the gridiron and gave him a new lease on life.

Daniel Rodriguez Veteran
Lily Ro Photography

Just weeks after graduating from high school, Daniel Rodriguez enlisted in the army. Before he even had a chance to let his decision sink in, he was headed to Iraq for his first tour of duty. Rodriguez, who had been playing sports since he was in diapers—“I could throw a tennis ball before I could walk,” he tells Muscle & Fitness—had always felt his true calling was in sports. Now, entrenched in the realities of war, he remembered that passion and made a promise to his best friend Kevin Thompson: “When I get out of this shithole, I’m going to play college football.”

“A Lonely World”

By the time he left the army, he had completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and survived the infamous Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan, one of the bloodiest battles in the war. Tragically, Thompson didn’t make it out of Kamdesh alive.

Haunted by the harrowing battle and witnessing his best friend’s death, Rodriguez came home wracked with PTSD and depression. “My purpose became blurry and I let bullshit override my ability,” Rodriguez tells us, “and you can go down dark paths when that happens.” He let his post-war demons take hold of his life for a year, until he remembered his promise to his best friend. “I forgot who I was and what I wanted to be because of situations I had encountered, and that’s a lonely world only a few people know.”

Making Good on a Promise

Daniel Rodriguez Hemp Hydrate

What comes next is nothing short of the plot of an inspirational family film. Rodriguez clawed his way back from the brink and threw himself into his training. “I had seen eight battle buddies commit suicide—and I’m sure there will be more ‘Junior Seau’s to come,” he says, referring to the Chargers linebacker who committed suicide in 2012 after a battle with CTE. He opted to take an alternative route to treating his depression. “Having an active regimen is crucial to my mental health, and hemp has been a key ingredient to my success,” he explains. “It’s helped me sleep less restlessly and its post-workout recovery benefits are remarkable.” 

He spent all of his money to produce a YouTube video of the intense training regimen he was using to get back into Division I shape. “I never worked out to just work out, I got better, and visualized my goal every single day,” Rodriguez says. And it worked. The video went viral, most notably catching the attention of Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney was so impressed, he invited Rodriguez to come train as a walk-on—an opportunity he eventually translated into a spot on the final roster.

Big Dreams

After playing 37 consecutive games for Clemson, Rodriguez set his sights on the next big thing—the NFL. “I saw myself playing in the NFL since I was in peewee pads, and I wasn’t going to forget that dream after surviving hell,” he says. “I was going to play in the NFL or die trying.” And he almost did. After Jeff Fisher, head coach of the then St. Louis Rams, heard Rodriguez’s story, he decided he wanted to make his dream come true. He gave him a spot on the special teams for the Rams in 2015. But Rodriguez’s NFL career was cut short when he suffered a devastating concussion in a preseason game. He ultimately didn’t make the final roster, but the journey helped him rediscover his motivation and take the next steps toward his true calling. 

Moving Forward

Today, Rodriguez is the best-selling author of Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept and a motivational speaker who has delivered speeches to everyone from Fortune 500 companies to NFL franchises. His ultimate goal is to travel to military bases and speak to soldiers about athletic discipline, military duty, and reacclimating to everyday life after service. He credits his healing, in part, to alternative therapies. “I was seeking holistic approaches to PTSD, TBI, and CTE, and I learned about hemp. After much research, I learned it had a lot of potential.” He was so happy with the results without adverse side effects that he became an ambassador for Hemp Hydrate, a brand of hemp-infused water that has been endorsed by elite athletes and trainers. 

Try It

Research has found that the cannabidiol (CBD) in hemp can treat anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Its neuroprotective qualities are also showing promise in treating CTE and TBI, and alleviating symptoms of PTSD. Visit hemphydrate.com to learn more.

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