Lindenwood Student Strengthens Community through Rugby

January 29, 2019

Growing up in Hawaiian Gardens, California, Cristian Rodriguez used rugby as a way of to get a scholarship to attend college and avoid the gang violence that plagues his hometown. Grateful for the opportunities he has had in his life, Rodriguez has spent every summer break going back to coach rugby for at risk youth as part of the Alternatives to Gang Membership (ATGM) program that he was a part of growing up. Upon graduation in the spring of 2019 he plans to return to his native California to help the next generation of youth discover rugby as alternative to joining a gang. For his commitment to community, Rodriguez was nominated for the 2018 Penn Mutual Life of Significance Award.

Rodriguez was first introduced to the ATGM program and rugby in elementary school. He started playing in Middle school and quickly fell in love with the physicality and camaraderie that the game brought him and his friends.

“Rugby allowed us to get out aggression in a constructive and effective manner. It also provided us the brotherhood and sense of belonging that many people seek when they join a gang,” Rodriguez indicated.

The game has impacted his life so much that he was offered a scholarship to play rugby at Lindenwood University. Rodriguez, the first member of his family to attend college, knows how rugby has changed the course of his life. He is thankful for the opportunity the ATGM program and rugby gave him and now spends his time giving back. Every summer, Rodriguez returns home to help coach his former team and provide opportunities for the at risk youth who are currently participating in the program.

“The ATGM program and rugby gave me the opportunity to go to college, travel to amazing places and make friends all over the world,” Rodriguez said. “I want to give those same opportunities to other people and give back to the program that gave me so much.”

Rodriguez is so dedicated to his community that he changed his major from Athletic Training to Recreation Administration with a minor in Sports Management. Upon graduation, he plans to use his degree to return home and continue building the program.

Thanks to his commitment to community Rodriguez is working hard to build a better future for all.

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