UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT
The Monterrey, Mexico native Rodrigo Barahona Salinas was born on the 27th of November. Oldest of three siblings, Ian, 16, and Annika, 7, he has led the way in upholding the sacred name "Barahona" with immense pride and valor. Leaving his family's side at the age of 15 and embarking on a journey for which his family has given up everything. He stands wholeheartedly in the United States of America, Washington D.C. capital, attending and playing D1 collegiate golf for the University of George Washington.
With an impressive resume, it is no question that he is an accomplished and decorated individual that has only begun his journey in life. But with success comes sacrifice and a story that this man himself should tell. Not what people think he had to do but what he did and has done throughout his journey.
BEHIND THE BRIGHT SHINING LIGHTS
Sophomore (10th grade)
Towards the end of August 2019, I stepped off the plane in Sarasota, Florida, alongside my family and was immediately hit with this waft of humidity and thick Florida musk that I will never forget. As we arrived at IMG Academy, I couldn't believe I was here. Emotions of excitement but an underlying uneasiness sat in my stomach as we neared the check-in table. Astonished by the vast campus and the sheer number of people checking in, adrenaline pumped through my veins. There was also an unsettling discomfort that was building, but something I couldn't realize until my final goodbyes to my family. For the first time, my mom and dad were letting me go on my own, and to be honest, I thought I wasn't ready. My mother shed a tear, and that's when I couldn't let go. I squeezed my mother oh so tightly and could remember the scent of her hair and clothing that I had grown to love since I was a baby. Although the inevitable moment of departure had come, they said their final farewells as I rubbed my eyes. "Go be you, Champ, and always strive for more."
During my first year away from my family, I called my mom and dad daily to tell them about my day and what we did at practice and school. The group I was assigned to was with coach Jay Denton and some notable players of IMG Academy, such as Gregory Soulhaug, Kelvin Ngai Si, Herman Web Sekne, Gabriel Hansel Hari, Nicholas Estrada, and some other studs. At first, it was intimidating to be among two Oregon, Univ. of San Diego, Purdue, and USF players that all had resumes like mine and some even better.
With so many changes occurring around me and my whole day focused on our development as athletes, students, and individuals, I knew this was where I wanted to be.
Once I started settling in with some months of experience under my belt, I knew I was more focused and dedicated than ever. What I then defined as dedicated and focused changed within days. This kid named Henri, who was in 11th grade then at IMG, and I had become quite good friends. We weren't in the same golf group, but our friend group overlapped. One night, he invited me out the following day to meet at 5:00 downstairs. I thought this kid was a lunatic, but I agreed. What I thought was going to be a one-day excursion turned into these workouts that consisted in waking up at 4:30 am no matter the mood, the weather, what happened the day before, or what was happening the day after. We jogged towards the fields. We started at 5 am, five days a week. They were some of the most strenuous workouts I've ever done. But seeing how Henri set an example and how he just went out there and got the job done inspired me to do the same. I don't think I have talked to Henri about this, but we both stay silent with our grind. We don't have the need to share the extra things we are doing or draw attention to us.
"Be like a swan, smoothly moving through the lake but paddling like crazy underneath."- My mentor
Junior (11th grade)
Coming back from COVID, we hopped right back on that train, and it was the same thing every day. With as much work I put in, there needed to be just as much productive recovery. Ice Baths were a huge mental battle. I enjoyed going in the tub with all my thoughts and body refusing to do so. But it was even more enjoyable doing it with one of my closest friends JP Odland. In the end, those 8 minutes and dipping our heads were eternal but very freaking funny.
That 11th-grade year was quite a rollercoaster. From a mediocre and unfulfilled quiet 1st year at IMG due to COVID, I knew it was time to put the pedal to the metal. Things started trending the right way, and I proceeded to shoot up the junior ranking to as high as 96th in the country and began my recruitment process simultaneously. Colleges that I had dreamed of and worked my a** off towards were finally within reach. Things were starting to line up, and then, my wrist.
INJURY (Wrist Second Metacarpal Boss*Medical Term)
This shooting pain started to occur through my wrist, and I decided to take a step back and get it checked. With a false diagnosis of my injury, I was told that physical therapy and strengthening, along with some rest, was all I needed due to it being a stress-related injury.
Being hopeful of my situation, I got to work on my short game like crazy. I resorted to mental practice for my long game and continuous days of PT that I thought were bettering the injury. I put off tournaments till the summer as my mentality was to eliminate the injury entirely before Junior year summer golf which is known as the most crucial time to play well as colleges commit their players soon after.
With that in mind, I realized my injury was not improving and was hurting more than before. I made matters worse with an incorrect diagnosis and a false solution method. With colleges waiting for my hopeful return in summer golf, I was the bearer of bad news and decided to get surgery and rectify my situation immediately. A logical decision, but one with short-term ramifications that plummeted my junior ranking and the possibility of collegiate D1 golf.
From the surgery to the PT post-surgery, I was told six months till I could play again. This hurt my soul more than I could've ever imagined. I just put in 5-6 months of PT and labor-intensive work with hopes of making a return, and this is the hand I've been dealt. Surgery and another six months?! There were nights I couldn't sleep and times I lost all hope. Failing my family and the legacy that I had built till now... My dreams felt as if they were diminished and at no fault of mine.
Just a sh**ty hand that I had been dealt.
And that is precisely why I wasn't going to let this stop me. We're all dealt hands at all points of our life, from great to bad. Every day I played that hand to its best till this point, which means I've done everything right. It was a matter of just doing it again.
During this time, I discovered how powerful the mind is and how it can help.
Injured athletes maintain their level without any physical practice. It was an arduous and intense process, just like gym work for muscles, but this was for the brain. The golf swing is a body pattern the player repeats, which I have done and perfected over the years. My body knows the movement, so I used the power of visualization and meditation to keep it in shape and ready for my return. Most importantly, I believed in the process and myself.
Without hitting a ball or entirely playing a round of golf before the tournament, I stepped on the first tee, ready to enjoy the round and excited to be back playing. The rest was just a little bonus to that.
And the rest was history...
Colleges crazed about me pre-injury had forgotten who I was as they had lost hopes just as I almost did. Well to them I say,"Muchas gracias aficion, este es para vosotros, SIIIIUUUUU" and just know that you had the chance.
More about my injury... https://www.instagram.com/p/Cb8l9Hhgn47/
What I learned
The idea of Smart Work and then Hard work I've seen people spend 8 hours a day on the range hitting ball after ball after ball but not even watching where the ball is landing, where they were aiming, where did it start, how far they hit it, how the contact was and questioning why that ball moved the way it did. If they were to do 20 minutes of hitting balls and precisely analyze each ball the way I broke it above, it would be way more beneficial than the 8 hours they put in. I'm not saying practice for 20 minutes, and you're good. When you go out there and practice, have a purpose and be locked in. The way I view practice is not by calling it practice because that term doesn't sit right in my head. I'm going to play and work or perfect my game. I try to dominate, so it's about something other than finishing my 3 hours of practice for the day. It is more about feeling like I got better and took a step forward. It does not matter the time I spent doing it.
Senior (12th grade)
With half of my senior year getting ready for the Notah Begay Jr. Championship, I then announced my commitment to George Washington University. I took the final six months of senior year to be grateful and enjoy my last months as an Ascender. Reflecting, I made friends for life, man. People that were part of my daily routine for three years straight. They were a crucial part of my development as a person and player, and they still are. We became so close we became like brothers. They are people I share the same passion with, and they are incredible people. IMG brought us together, and our shared ambition and hunger made our relationship what it is today. We meticulously analyzed the game and worked hard to get better and be a step ahead of everyone else. But outside the course, we learned from our different cultures and made the best out of the little moments. Let's not also act like I didn't have fun and have so many experiences. Being an exchange student, outside of golf and school, it felt like I was on vacation. Discovering the city with some of the most extraordinary people I've met. I could not be more thankful for them. I miss them so much, but I know the world will bring us together again.
Looking back at my game, I grew and improved as the game got harder and harder. I had to face a lot of adversities within the game—some mental blocks, technique, and opening my mind to new ways to get better. Sometimes I felt like maybe that was my peak, and now I'm just stuck, unable to get any better. But I think this is an extraordinary moment that everyone lives through, and breaking through this point changes your life and who you are forever, and it is something I experienced while at IMG. I suffered from some mental blocks and was unable to get them cleared. I just was filled with frustration. I went from winning Mexican nationals to a winning drought that lasted around 3 1/2 years. And don't get me wrong, it was 3 1/2 years of half-adding things. I was working on everything I could, trying new things and opening my mind to other ways to view the game. Managing my diet, my body, and my mind, nothing nourished out of all that hard work, or so I thought. That is the part where I felt stuck. However, when you find the right thing that works for you, you start discovering things about yourself, your game, how you react to certain situations, what practice works best for you, and all of the hows and whys. But you can only find them through the experience of doing the uncomfortable things, the different stuff, the things people look at you and say, WTF is he doing? That's when you know you are doing the right stuff and moving toward your goal. I found myself at IMG and learned more about my game than I could ever imagine.
Freshman(1st year) College
College is fun; I'm finally fully independent and able to do and work on whatever I want. It is a very dangerous setting because it is easy to find distractions and fall off the track if you don't have a goal or purpose. Just like I did an IMG, I made healthy relationships and am discovering new places as I work hard on my game. It can't be more fun, and I can't be happier than I am now. I am completely blessed with the opportunity.
My Testament: To this day, I tell people about his story and act as if I am prouder than he is of himself. There is not a single man that reacted better than he did to an unfortunate situation that he was given. That was because of this man's biggest strength. His greatest asset is the smile he possess. A radiant and confident smile that has unsurmountable power to make another person's day. He just genuinely cares about everybody else and this is what allows him to put aside every single emotion that he is feeling. Whether he had the worst day possible or is riding the high of his life, when he greets you, he just makes you feel loved and cared for like nobody else. He gives you all the attention and thoughtfulness a human could give and wants you to be happy as well. It's hard to put into words because he's that special. He leaves his magical dust of happiness with every person he speaks to, but under this charming smile and character is a man that is humble beyond measure and works harder than an ox towards all the goals he has set for himself. I am only lucky to call this guy mi hermano and I know I have found a friend for life. I hope you know bro that your abuela is up in the heavens watching over you and could not be more proud of the way you carry yourself and love others. Everything she's taught you is always before my very eyes and all that she wants for you is to keep being happy bro... Feliz cumple cabron...