Jennifer Rodriguez: Miami Ice

Jennifer Rodriguez is, at first glance, is like any other student at the University of Miami. A bulging backpack slung over her shoulders, studying quietly in the lobby of the Herbert Wellness Center, employed at an on-campus job. She’s very regular.

Until you notice the tattoo of the Olympic rings on the inside of her calf. Her well-muscled, speed skater’s calf.

j-rod-jennifer-rodriguezRodriguez started her athletic career as an artistic roller skater before making the switch to inline speed skating in 1993. In ’96, she traded her wheels for blades, making the transition to ice in hopes to make the Olympic team. That choice paid off. At the Nagano Games of 1998, she made history, becoming the first winter Olympian of Hispanic descent.

In ’98 she had three top ten finishes, and came back strong at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, earning herself two bronze medals.

Seriously. There’s a two-time Olympic medalist sitting in the wellness center with her textbooks.

She made another Olympic team in 2006, for the Torino Games, but failed to finish on the podium and subsequently retired from the sport. But two years later, she laced up her skates again and realized she had quit too soon. She staged an incredible comeback to make the team again for Vancouver 2010. She may not have medaled, but competed for her own enjoyment and went out with a smile on her face.

In 2011, Rodriguez was added to the Sports Hall of Champions at the American Airlines Arena, joining the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio, and Dan Marino. And you know how I found out about that? It was in the wellness center’s employee newsletter. She’s a personal trainer there, and I work in the fitness room.

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Seriously. How cool is that?

We’ve never spoken, though. I haven’t yet worked up the courage to squeak out that I’m a fan of hers and watched much of her final Olympics from the very same wellness center where we’re both employed.

Her gray personal trainer polo might not give it away, but she’s kind of a big deal.

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Amy Deem: Putting the “U” in Team USA

2011 Track and Field - 2011 USA Championships at Hayward Field - June 22, 2011It was announced yesterday by USA Track and Field that Amy Deem, the University of Miami’s Director of Track and Field and Cross Country, was named a Team USA relay coach for the 14th IAAF World Outdoor Championships. The event will be held this summer in Moscow, Russia from August 10-18.

Coach Deem is no newcomer to international events. In the summer of 2012, she was the head women’s track coach for Team USA at the London Olympics, helping to lead the US team to its most successful Olympic showing since 1992, winning 29 medals. She worked with relay coach Jon Drummond to coach the women’s relay teams, both of which won gold medals and one (Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter) that shattered the 4x100m world record that had stood for over 27 years by more than half a second.

She also served as women’s head coach at the 2007 IAAF World Outdoor Championships, when the U.S. swept to victory in all four relays. She served as the event coordinator for sprints and hurdles for the USA Track and Field Coaches Education Program from 1998-2000, and in 2001 served as head coach of the USA Junior national team. In the summer of 2003, Deem was the explosive events coach (sprints and hurdles) for the United States at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, guiding Lauryn Williams and each relay team to gold medals.

USA-Canes

Hurricanes T’erea Brown, Amy Deem, Brittany Viola and Lauryn Williams at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony. (courtesy of ucanes.com)

As an athlete, Deem participated in the 400m hurdles until an injury ended her career. She then became an assistant coach for a high school team in her native Athens, Ohio. She first came to Miami in 1988 as an intern in the Compliance Department to complete her degree at Ohio University. While fulfilling her internship she simultaneously served as assistant track coach. The head women’s track coach opened up in the spring of 1990, and she decided to stay and take on the job.

Prior to her tenure as head coach, the Hurricanes had never had an athlete record an NCAA qualifying mark. Since then, Deem has guided 43 student-athletes to a combined 149 All-America honors and 12 national championships.

Team USA? You seem to be in pretty good hands.

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Could Miami Ever Host The Olympics?

Earlier today, the USOC announced that it has officially begun looking into potentially making a bid for the 2024 summer Olympics. It has sent out letters to the mayors of 35 American cities (the 25 largest metropolitan areas plus ten others that have already expressed intent) to gauge interest. America’s previous two applicant cities — New York City (2012) and Chicago (2016) — are on the list, as is Miami.

This got me thinking. Is it even remotely feasible for Miami to host the Olympics?

Well, let’s look at it logically. The letter sent out to potential candidate cities included the following requirements:

• 45,000 hotel rooms.

•  An Olympic Village that sleeps 16,500 and has a 5000-person dining hall.

•  Operations space for over 15,000 media and broadcasters.

•  An international airport that can handle thousands of international travelers per day.

•  Public transportation service to venues.

•  Roadway closures to allow exclusive use for Games-related transportation.

•  A workforce of up to 200,000.

And, of course, the city would need competition venues. So how does Miami stack up?

• Miami-Dade county has 48,000 hotel rooms. Easy!

• An international airport? Done and done.

• A workforce of 200,000: as someone who traveled to London just to volunteer for the Games in 2012, I know firsthand that at any Olympics, the workforce will NOT be a problem.

• Miami would need to build several venues, including an aquatic center, indoor cycling track and a BMX course, among others. But the city already has Sun Life Stadium, Marlins Park, the BB&T Center, the BankUnited Center, Miami Marine Stadium, Crandon Park Tennis Center, etc., plus beaches for volleyball and ample open water space for boating and long distance swimming. Not too shabby.

As for the Olympic village and media space, this is where things get a little stickier. It could be a great excuse to update and revamp an older, more run-down area of the city. But is there room? Since this bid is entirely hypothetical, I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer at this point.

My biggest concern would be transportation. Miami has two (two!) metro lines that only differ when one splits off and goes to the airport. The bus system isn’t particularly reliable either, and the traffic on US-1 is awful on a good day. Could you imagine the traffic during the Olympics? 

Bottom line? I personally think that, while it would take some work, a serious investment and one hell of a commitment, Miami could make it happen.

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What do you think?

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Greg Louganis: Miami’s Greatest Olympian

Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis

As far as number of Olympians and Olympic medals go, the University of Miami doesn’t rank at the top. Or anywhere close, really. While there were a handful of Canes that competed in London 2012, USC and Stanford sent 40 athletes apiece (and I won’t even mention the 34 Florida Gators that competed). (source)

But while we can’t claim that we have the most golds, we can lay claim to arguably the greatest American diver that ever lived. ‘Cause when the U does something, we do it big.

Greg Louganis began diving when he was nine years old and won his first Olympic medal at age 16 at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Born and raised in California, Louganis was looking to go away to college. Interested in Miami’s theater department as well as the 10m diving platform boasted by the UC pool, he became a Cane in 1978.

Louganis qualified for the Olympic team in 1980 but fell victim to President Carter’s boycott of the Moscow Games. But he came out strong in 1984 as, in front of a home crowd in Los Angeles, he swept gold in both platform and springboard events. This made him the first man in 56 years to accomplish this feat.

Louganis executing a dive.

Louganis executing a dive.

However, he’s best known for what occurred at his final Olympics, in Seoul in 1988. Not only did he repeat his double gold performance, but he did so after smacking his head on the springboard during a preliminary dive. Thirty-five minutes later, after getting his head wound stitched up, he resumed diving and won gold the next day. He’s the only male and only the second diver in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic games, and he did so with a concussion.

Openly gay and diagnosed with HIV in 1988, Louganis has since become an outspoken advocate for gay rights and HIV awareness.

Starting in March, we’ll be able to watch him on ABC’s new show Splash — think Dancing with the Stars meets The Voice meets diving. Louganis is going to be the coach for a group of celebrities that will then compete in front of judges, including London 2012 gold medalist David Boudia. I mean, if I was going to throw myself off a 10m platform, Greg Louganis is certainly the person I’d want coaching me.

But maybe it’s just a Cane thing.

Greg Louganis throwing up the U in a 2012 interview.

Greg Louganis throwing up the U in a 2012 interview. Watch it here.

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UM Hockey Is Making Waves

This past Saturday, I went to a University of Miami hockey game.

Field hockey, you assume? Wrong.

Roller hockey, you guess next? False.

Ice hockey. The University of Miami has an ice hockey team.

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The UM men’s ice hockey team warming up before playing Life University on Feb. 2.

It’s a pretty incredible story, actually. The club started out as roller hockey, with former ice hockey players making the switch to wheels because that’s what was available on campus. In 2011, the then-roller hockey team won the Division II Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships. The team fundraised its own way to nationals, held in Wisconsin, and part of these efforts included the club’s first ever ice hockey game. The Hurricanes trounced FIU, 11-3.

Immediately on the heels of the 2011 roller hockey season, the jump was made to ice hockey. The team went 17-0-0 in its first season on ice, and this season is currently 20-8-2 with two games remaining to be played in the regular season.

The UM men's ice hockey team lining up before a game against Life University on Feb. 2.

The UM men’s ice hockey team lining up before a game against Life University on Feb. 2.

When I went on Saturday, the Canes faced off against the Life University Running Eagles. It was a bit of a massacre. If you don’t know much about hockey, here’s how it works: there are five players plus the goalie on the ice for each team, but because hockey involves skating at full-throttle for such a long time, there are line changes every minute or so. This means that the players on the ice are constantly rotating, meaning fresher legs and a fast-paced game all the way through. A typical hockey team has about 20 players on the roster. Well, Life University showed up with all of seven players (in addition to their goalie). Needless to say, they didn’t get much rest. They all played more or less the entire game.

The Canes scored their first goal within the first two minutes of the game, and it only got worse from there. The final score was 9-0, and by the end the players for Life could barely stand up. So, okay, it wasn’t an entirely fair contest. But Miami’s record speaks for itself: these boys are no joke.

Check out my photo gallery below!

The Hurricanes play their home games at Kendall Ice Arena. They next play Palm Beach State in a two-game series on Feb. 7 and 9, both at 8:30 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.umicehockey.com or the team’s Facebook page.

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Curling: It’s Not Just For Hair

curling!

A Learn to Curl session at Incredible Ice in Coral Springs, Fla. (April 2010)

Since the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Saturday nights have been a big draw for Incredible Ice skating rink in Coral Springs. Each week, Florida residents pack inside to experience something completely new. Inside, air temperatures hover around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and falling flat on your back (or face, or knee, or elbow…) is more of the norm than an anomaly. But cold and ice are not the only new experiences these Floridians come for; they’re here to curl.

Don’t know what curling is? Sure you do. What many consider to be the black sheep of Winter Olympic sports, it was on TV for nine hours every day of competition in Vancouver, so much so that the “C” in CNBC was given an entirely new meaning. Chances are, you probably caught an hour. Or two. Or ten.

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curling

I was able to participate in one of these Learn to Curl sessions back in April of 2010, and this sport is deceptively hard! Rick Patzke, the Chief Operating Officer of the US Curling Association, likens curling to winter golf. “Like golf…you can learn the basics of curling in half an hour, and then spend the rest of your life trying to perfect it,” he said.

“It’s like shuffleboard with a chess mentality,” says Craig Vaughan, one of the curling instructors at Incredible Ice. Leave it to a 35-year veteran to make it sound so simple.

Vaughan and his wife, Debbie, a fellow curler, moved to Coral Springs from Ottawa; Canada is the world’s curling central, and many Floridian curlers grew up there and simply relocated, taking their passion for curling with them. However, while I was there, I met a fellow first-timer from El Salvador. Not quite a curling capital!

The day after going curling, my knee was still feeling it!

The day after going curling, my knee was still feeling it!

Curling is a gentleman’s sport, with athletes calling their own infractions and doing the scoring themselves. The social aspect is a big part of the game, with opposing teams often frequenting a bar together after a match. Even in such an informal environment this attitude was palpable, as complete strangers bonded quickly, cheering each other’s shots and laughing good-naturedly at everyone’s spectacular falls, their own included. Participants were seen hobbling off the ice, wincing through their ever-present grins.

Still don’t think curling is a sport? Try it for yourself! For more information, go to www.saveologyiceplex.com or call 954-341-9956.

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