Robert Anthony Rodriguez kept a promise he made to himself as a kid: when he became an adult, he would help other children build their confidence, especially if they were experiencing heartache and struggle, as he had faced as a child. Today, Robert reaches kids as a motivational speaker, actor, founder of Limb Possible, and member of the US Amputee Soccer Team. His story provides a sort of roadmap to help other children build self-assurance in the face of hardship and shows that with a positive attitude, good things follow.
Robert was born with Fibular Hemimelia which resulted in an amputation at his knee at 10 months old. Besides adjusting to life as an amputee, Robert was a victim to abuse, a house fire, and loss. Through the pain and loss, he was surrounded by good people, like his mom and grandfather. They were role models in Robert’s life, and instilled the importance of working hard, giving up a little to make things better for all, and staying positive. Robert learned that leading with love, always motivates others. His aim is to live to be the best version of himself, support others to do the same and he believes good things will follow as a result.
What are some of your fondest memories?
Some of my fondest memories as a child were just being able to show people that I could keep up in certain sports, and to overcome the obstacles. That was very important to me, because it gave me confidence along my way. When I was young, I would often wear pants in the summertime just to try to hide my leg. I was so insecure and I didn’t embrace my disability, but the times that I was able to mentally and physically embrace it were the times that I won a game, or got the girl I liked, or tried something new for the first time. My fondest memories were sometimes the most difficult times – overcoming being in a house fire, or being a victim of abuse – and being able to come out of those situations and realizing they are the reasons why I am who I am today.
Tell me about your family
When I was younger, I wondered if any woman would ever really love me. There was a girl I had a crush on when I was in tenth grade. I used to have a bad limp and she made fun of me. Every day from tenth grade until junior year, I set up a long mirror after school and do physical therapy, though I didn’t know it at the time! I would teach myself how to roll over the foot heel to toe, fix my posture, then do push-ups and sit-ups. I’d come back and work on my gait, then do more push-ups and sit-ups, constantly just trying to figure out how the heck to fix this. I went back to my prosthetist and spent a year just diving into my prosthetic, and not realizing that it would help me later on in my career.
I met my wife when I was twenty years old. She was nineteen and I was twenty, and we met at a party, then went on a date. I’d only ever had pants on, so on New Year’s Eve 2007, she had a party and I had enough experience to know that I had to tell her about my leg. I really liked her! We walked around the block, and I said, “Listen, I have a prosthetic leg, and I understand if you don’t want to talk to me, but I just have to tell you that this is my situation”. And the first thing she said was, “Can I touch it?”. And the rest is history! We’ve been together for 14 years, and honestly she’s just my rock. I’m very lucky.
I used to imagine my family when I was young. When I was about 10 or 11, I started to pray for my future wife. I wanted to have a son, to be a better father than I had in my life. I would think about what my daughter would look like. I would often just manifest it until it became my reality. It’s true love, and when they’re having a good day, I’m having a good day. I try to keep them positive and instil confidence in them at an early age, so when they become adults, they’ll be comfortable with who they are.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I’ve had many people inspire me along my journey. The people who surround me have given me that battery in my back, that motivation. First and foremost, my grandfather, who passed away when I was 16. He was a police officer, Detective Sergeant, and he was the first man that I saw who worked hard and took care of his family, so he was an example for me in life.
My mother has always been in my corner, to not only tell me, but show me that things happen for a reason, and with a positive attitude, you can overcome any type of challenge. My mother always said that when she was facing me, she kept that stern face and stayed strong, but she would cry behind closed doors. She would be upset when I couldn’t see. She taught me how to be mentally and physically tough, but then she would break down on her own time. She lived by example, and worked two jobs to put me through school and provide a house for me.. She was always a support to me, and honestly she would always tell me everything that was happening was for a reason. “This is all for a reason, stay positive, you wouldn’t be given anything you can’t handle”. Today, I can say I can see the reason. When you’re going through it, it’s hard to see the end of the tunnel, but now I’m very fortunate for the things that have given me this tough skin.
I’ve also been very fortunate to have amazing people along my path to push me forward, such as Josh Sundquist, who is on the US Amputee Soccer Team, as well as a gentleman named Scott Odom who helped create the AMP1 Basketball Team, which opened my eyes to being an adaptive athlete at the highest level. My family, my friends, my beautiful wife who allows me to be the man that I am today… if it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be able to continue to push on, especially on the days when you don’t feel like going out there, or being motivational. My family has been that deciding factor to make sure that every day I get up and get after it.
What is the importance of community for you?
It’s just about being around good people. As we’ve all experienced, especially this last year, life can be tough. Community is all about giving up a little bit of yourself for the benefit of others. We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not, no matter your colour, demographic, sexual preference, or who you are. Community is just all of us, it’s the makeup of who we are. I’m 34 years old, and I was very fortunate to grow up in a time when you played outside with your friends and your neighbours watched over you. That was a tight-knit community at that time. Now, it’s bigger and broader because we have social media communities, and a larger perspective of people who can connect faster, even though we’re further apart. I think it’s really important for everyone to show love, to lead with love, and not be so self-absorbed. We all get kind of caught up in that, but the importance of community to me is leading with love and uplifting each other, and trying to do things that benefit us in the future.
What motivates you?
What motivates me is trying to understand that everything in my life has happened for a reason. I was in a really tough space growing up, and I just try to appreciate what I have in the moment.
I’ve been around death for a long time; I was introduced to it at a very early age. My grandmother died in a fire that burnt my house down two days before Christmas when I was three years old. My uncle died six years later, and within a month, another relative passed away. My grandfather passed away when I was sixteen. I had a friend who passed away when I was seventeen, another friend at eighteen, and another friend at nineteen. By the time I was 23, I had attended so many funerals, and just started to realize that life is short, and we have to cherish what we have every day because it’s not guaranteed. We can’t get time back, so it’s important to utilize your time. Every day that the sun beams through my window, I understand that it’s another chance or opportunity to try to be my best self, whether I feel like my best self or not. I’m here today, and things are bigger than me, the situation is bigger than me and how I feel. There are other people that I want to inspire, other people that might need it, and even when I don’t feel motivational, I do feel like the universe and God put me in a place so that I’m able to help people.
Sometimes when I’m feeling down and out, I put on a motivational speech from YouTube, like Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, or Eric Thomas, and try to get myself in a good space. The truth is, the advice for everyone is to try and find a healthy space for yourself, because the world is throwing so many things at us, and it can get really loud and confusing. I found the way to motivate myself is to find a healthy space where I’m comfortable, and just start trying to be my best self for the day.
I also have a lot of music that motivates me. One of the songs that I go to that brings out a lot of me is Believer by Imagine Dragons. “Pain, you made me a believer”, that’s it! I know pain very well, and it does make me a believer. That’s one of my favourite songs.
What is your definition of ‘defy convention’?
My definition of ‘defying convention’ is being able to go against all odds. People have a perspective and a perception of someone who may have a disability, and the truth is the only disability is a negative mindset. Being able to defy those odds is defying convention for me, and showing people that you can do anything, and anything’s possible, especially with great equipment.
What’s your favourite thing about SideStix?
My favourite thing about SideStix is the carbon fibre. They’re extremely light, so they’re the best pair of crutches I’ve ever had. I like the shock absorption, because I play on the US Amputee Soccer Team and so being able to balance and get faster because of my crutches has made a night and day difference. When I first started playing, I had “clunkers” as we call them, until I got my first pair of SideStix, which were actually given to me by our team captain Nico Calabria. He gave me his old pair of SideStix until I purchased my own pair, and I just fell in love with them. I mean, obviously! I love the Tornado Tips, the grip on the handles, and just being able to lock my arm in the proper way. It allows me to not only be comfortable, but then get the best of my ability while I’m playing soccer.
What has been a defining moment in your professional career?
I currently work for Hanger Clinic, where I When I was 22, my prosthetist brought me to a hospital to meet a gentleman who was a 46-year-old diabetic. His infection had spread and he was becoming an above-the-knee amputee, but said he wished he had met me six to eight months earlier when he could have been a below-the-knee amputee. He told me how much I inspired him, but he actually inspired me.
From then on, I started doing peer visits all around New York. At the time, I was a rapper, making music, but I started making that transition from doing music into my career now working with patients. I couldn’t get a job at Hanger Clinic, because I didn’t have a background and my resumé was very thin. So I started to build my resumé, I got on a few TV shows, joined some sports, and then I got a job at my first prosthetic company. I spent five years there, and as well as building my resume and getting more experience, I was building a name and a career for myself. Every year I was with that company, I was thinking about how I could get back to Hanger. I didn’t know if it would actually happen, and I would think, “I’ve come as far as I could, and this is wonderful! I should be happy where I am”, but I just knew deep down inside that wasn’t it. After those five years, things changed for me professionally, and I finally got the chance to come back to Hanger, not only as a patient but as an employee. It’s my dream job, and it actually worked out ten times better than I ever imagined. It’s another great manifestation of knowing that this is where I wanted to be. I’ve gone to this company since I was a child, and now here I am changing lives.
Do you have a message for other crutch users?
My advice is to exercise and stay healthy, and to understand that you are not limited. There are no limits just because you’re on crutches.