South Elgin senior Kara Rodriguez aspires to work in the broadcast communications industry when she graduates from college because, she says, she likes to create things.
Rodriguez created an awful lot of memories during her four years as a three-sport athlete at South Elgin High School, although some of them came with pain and an ultimate restructuring of what she once thought would be her athletic future.
From the time she started playing sports as a little girl, Rodriguez's dream was to play college softball.
But on a fateful day in South Elgin's gym during the football season of her junior year -- one of the prime times for softball recruiting -- one slip and a millisecond later while doing a cheer routine changed things. She tore an ACL, missed that recruiting season for softball, and with it what many thought could be a Division I scholarship offer.
But all was not lost. Rodriguez came back strong in less than 6 months and continued to pursue her softball dream. There were a couple of Division II offers but none at a school where the Elgin resident, who ranked in the top 5 percent of her class academically, felt she could get the education she wanted.
So on a trip to look at the University of North Texas as a possible school and walk-on chance for softball, she also decided to try out for the cheerleading team. Cheerleading had been Rodriguez's "second" love for a long time -- she cheered for the South Elgin football team as well as with the All-Star club team out of Geneva, qualifying for the world championships twice.
The tryouts yielded positive results. She was selected for the team at the school just outside of Dallas and just like that, she became the Division I athlete she dreamed of becoming.
"I don't want to ever make it sound like cheerleading was the only choice," Rodriguez says. "It was a second option and I feel fortunate to have had a second option. Not everyone does."
Rodriguez was an all-area basketball player this past season for coach Tim Prendergast's team, and the starting shortstop for coach Jason Schaal's regional championship softball team this spring. She was voted South Elgin's Female Athlete of the Year, and she has now also earned the distinction of being selected the Daily Herald's 2012-13 Female Athlete of the Year for the Fox Valley.
"She won 11 varsity letters," said Schaal. "She's just a super athlete who carries a very high GPA and is motivated to do well in everything she does. She had the ability to become a Division I athlete and she's taken full advantage of it. She's an 18-year old with her priorities in line."
In nominating Rodriguez for the award, South Elgin's administration wrote, in part, "Kara is a very dedicated young woman who wants to succeed in everything she does. Whether it's in the classroom, on the softball field or at work, she always gives her very best. Kara is a three-sport athlete and you don't find many student-athletes that participate in three sports anymore. She is a hard worker and strives to be the best at whatever she is doing."
The fall season for Rodriguez was all about cheering for the Storm's football team.
"I love football games," she says. "I love hanging out with all my friends and being out there doing a routine or doing a cheer we all know. I like the unity of cheerleaders."
And Storm coach Linda Roggensack couldn't have asked for a better leader for the cheer team.
"She's so self-motivated," Roggensack said. "She did anything you asked of her and she's a great role model. She's one of the strongest girls I've ever coached and even through the injury she never complained about anything. She always pushed through. Everything about her is something to look up to. She was the perfect athlete to coach."
When the winter season arrives, there's basketball and club cheerleading to juggle, and Rodriguez brought an equal zeal to each.
"Her energy and work ethic is off the charts," said Storm girls basketball coach Tim Prendergast. "In 20 years of coaching I've never had anyone work as hard as Kara. She knows one speed, and it's 110 miles an hour and nothing else.
"From the moment she walked into this building as a freshman I knew we had something special. She wasn't the most talented basketball player and some kids didn't like her aggressiveness at first but that's what you want out of a player and she became a three-year starter. Her intensity raised the intensity of everyone around her. She's just a great person with a great attitude."
Basketball was a sport Rodriguez knew she wasn't great at, but her love of competing made her a better player, ultimately an all-area player.
"I love basketball," said the daughter of Kevin and Kim Rodriguez, whose brother Kyle attends the University of Iowa. "I'm not the greatest at it but I love being out there competing. I grew up playing basketball. It's fun."
And while club cheerleading is also fun for her, Rodriguez says it's that sport that brings the greatest challenges and stress.
"I get more nervous for cheer than basketball or softball," she said. "You only get 30 seconds to do your routine and when you're waiting backstage it's the worst. But once the music starts you get so much adrenaline going the nerves go away."
This past season in softball, Rodriguez returned to being the player she was her sophomore year, the player she struggled to get back to in 2012 while returning from the ACL surgery. She hit .319 this season with 4 home runs and 16 RBI, stealing 7 bases in 8 attempts. She anchored South Elgin's infield and led her team to a 19-win season and the program's third regional title.
"I know there were times I could have done better last year," she said. "I let things get to me and that affected me. I tried my best this year to not think too much and just play. I was able to put mistakes out of my head and that made it easier to just play."
Now it's on to college, a cheerleading experience that will rival any Division I athletic experience, and an education that she intends to have culminate with a career in broadcast journalism. She's been a member of the South Elgin Beacon Academy and has drawn rave reviews for her work from all of her teachers, including Ben Erickson, who along with Schaal became her confidants.
"I could go to them with anything," said Rodriguez. "Obviously it's their job to teach us but without them things would have been different for me."
She also holds a special place for her All-Star coach, Matt Paraday.
"He told me I was going to be a college cheerleader when I was in eighth grade," Rodriguez said. "He taught me so many cheerleading things and he really helped me get to where I'm at. He's a great coach."
To Schaal, growing up is the No. 1 thing he's seen Rodriguez excel at.
"I've seen the maturity grow," he said. "She's always the one the other kids go talk to and one who takes that role to help others out. I had the opportunity to work with her and her family since she was in seventh grade and she's become a mature young woman. She has that drive and she wants to be successful."
And it's a pretty safe assumption that Kara Rodriguez will create a way to become exactly that.