Video: The reason J-Rod skates

By Anchor
CNBC
updated 2/22/2006 6:34:52 PM ET 2006-02-22T23:34:52

With her ponytail and good-natured smile, Jen Rodriguez may seem an unlikely threat. But then the skates go on and "J-Rod" — as she's known — takes off.

"She's what, 5'4", maybe 125 pounds?" says U.S. speedskating long track coach Tom Cushman.

She's America's most dominant female speedskater — often outsized on the ice, but with a workout regimen so brutal, she trains with men, not the "girls."

"Girls are good, too," says Rodriguez. "But, I don't know, something, I just like chasing those boys."

Her career is as unconventional as she is. She got her start as an in-line skater, racking up 12 world championships before switching over when she met K.C. Boutiette, a fellow Olympian who taught her the ice... and then married her.

"The ring came in the mail," says Boutiette. "I ended up serving her breakfast and, you know, when she popped her vitamin's bottle open, there it was. It was hanging on the top."

In no time, Rodriguez was a surprise bronze medalist at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, and an instant celebrity at her father's Miami restaurant.

Rodriguez is half Cuban and a role model, now, for Hispanic-Americans, despite the fact she does not speak Spanish.

"I was getting all this media [attention]," she says. "The Cuban-American girl from Miami in the Winter Olympics. And I was like, 'oh, yeah, I guess I am.'" 

In Torino, Rodriguez's races haven't all gone as she hoped. She finished 10th in the 1,000 meters and 11th in the 500 meter race. She has one more chance Wednesday in the 1,500 meters.

Rinkside will be her mother, Barbara, whose longtime battle with breast cancer resurfaced last year. But nothing — not even chemotherapy — could keep her from these games.

"Well, my goal was just to be healthy for the Olympics," says Barbara Rodriguez. "And you know, that's my short term goal. And here I am, ready to go."

Wednesday night, Jen skates for herself, her country and her mother — giving us all another reason to cheer.

"I'm very nervous," says Barbara. "Until she gets off that line, and then I'm jumping up and down screaming, telling her, 'faster Jen, faster!'"

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