Many athletes find themselves in extended breaks from competition at the moment, but for Michigan’s Inaki Rodriguez, the wait began long before COVID-19.

The sophomore midfielder arrived at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. in July 2018, following a successful stint with the soccer club Audax Italiano in his native Chile. He weighed coming to the States against playing professional soccer in Spain, but the academic promise of college soccer drew him here.

He was recruited to play for the Wolverines that same summer and graduated high school early to enroll at Michigan in January 2019.

“I came in with high expectations,” Rodriguez said. “They had high expectations for me as well.”

Rodriguez got right to work, building chemistry with his new teammates and learning Michigan’s system. He was making major strides and adapting well. But just months later, as he was competing in preparation for the season, high expectations turned to disappointment when Rodriguez tore his meniscus.  

Although a major setback, the injury did not deter Rodriguez. More motivated than ever, he worked his way back onto the field the following season.

In only his second game back from the meniscus injury, though, Rodriguez suffered a season-ending MCL tear. 

Through the pain and disappointment, Rodriguez once again found the silver lining. It allowed him to advance both academically and physically, and the time off further prepared him for the physicality and pace of play found in the Big Ten.

“You have to see the good things in those situations,” Rodriguez said.

Just as Rodriguez began making his return to practices in the spring, the pandemic emerged. Even with the uncertainty, the team maintained a highly-competitive environment and found ways to stay engaged — both virtually and in person — during the offseason.

After returning to campus, the team then learned that there would be no fall season. Rodriguez, who had already dealt with a longer wait than most, set the tone.

“We have a very unique and special group,” he said. “We have to keep ourselves motivated knowing in the spring we might compete for a championship.”

A message of staying motivated is even more resonant when it comes from someone who has faced so many delays and roadblocks in his playing career. 

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t expect it, but I’ve grown to learn that time goes by really fast, and I have to take advantage of it.”

With the earliest possible return to action being in spring 2021, Rodriguez’s wait drags on. As with the troubles he’s faced, however, he is taking the continued break in stride. As he enters what he hopes is the final leg of his stoppage, Rodriguez is focused on pushing himself mentally, being in the best shape possible, and making an instant difference once games finally commence.

“If I keep pushing myself,” Rodriguez said, “no one can stop me.”


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