When he was a teenager, José Rodriguez was kicked out of public school.
He was diagnosed with a learning disability and sent to a school for students with special needs.
This qualified him to participate in the New Jersey Special Olympics–any child or adult with an intellectual disability can take part.
At StoryCorps, José told his former coach Charles Zelinsky what his life was like before he found the games.
José is now a Special Olympics basketball coach–and will be coaching during the 2012 New Jersey Summer Games.
Click here for the transcript.
But my little brother got sick when he was 4 of encephalitis. I sort of helped my mom with him around the house: feeding him, and stretching him. After he passed away that’s when I realized, you know, my mom can’t really handle another son passing away so I basically turned my life around. I started playing basketball, and opportunities just opened up for me.
Charles Zelinsky: Yes, and in 2006 New Jersey Special Olympics was going to the national games and you were one of ten athletes picked from the entire state. At that competition, we took fourth. But we had a second chance to go back in 2010. Do you remember at halftime we were losing by eight?
JR: Yeah. I gathered the team up and I was like, “Look I didn’t come here to lose; if you’re ready to win, let’s win this.” And they all shook their head, Yes alright, we’re ready to win now.
CZ: I think that if you hadn’t gone through a lot of the things you did in your past, you probably wouldn’t have been ready to take charge like that. When you think back to that week in Nebraska, what do you take away from it—other than the gold medal?
JR: One of the players, Sean, I kept throwing him the ball, he kept trying. I was trying so hard to get him a basket. There’s what, three seconds left? I go it right to him, a three-pointer. I look at him, I look at his family, and—best feeling in my life, right there. That’s what I take away.
So, I’m gonna ask you, in 20 years, what will you remember the most about me?
CZ: I think I’ll remember most the way in which you care about people. And, uh, the players that aren’t as talented on our team, they’re as important to you as the best player on the team. You don’t just put words out there, you show them, and you do it in a very kind way.