Clemson student Daniel Rodriguez smoothly drove a lawn mower around a short and challenging course across the street from the Aiken Visitors Center and Train Depot on Wednesday.
“Actually, that’s the first time I’ve been on one of those tractors,” he said with a smile.
Rodriguez and about 20 other Clemson parks and recreation majors met with Glenn Parker, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism director, and staff members to learn about their work. Rodriguez’s early story has been well-documented, the 24-year-old Army veteran spent 15 months in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan.
He didn’t get into it much on Wednesday, but Rodriguez has been profiled in such publications as The Washington Post, USA Today and more. In Afghanistan he was wounded, but survived a horrific firefight in 2009 and later received a Bronze Star. After his discharge, Rodriguez had to work hard to get through emotional issues. Last summer, he walked on to the Clemson football team and in December won the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.
“You can’t let the horrors of war burden you without finding out what you enjoy,” he said. “For me, it’s football and getting my education. You realize life isn’t as hard as it seems. I’ve got nothing to complain about when men are overseas, fighting the war and putting their lives on the line.”
Rodriguez enjoyed the opportunity to meet with Parker and his staffers. He’s pleased with Clemson’s parks and recreation major and wants to give back to the community by training athletes and possibly starting a sports facility of his own.
For several years, Parker and others – Athletic Superintendent Jeff Metz, Recreation Superintendent Kim Coleman and Parks Superintendent Phil Berley – have hosted Clemson PRT undergraduates to give them a real-world understanding of the careers available and the work that staffers do.
The students, who also will visit Augusta and Columbia this week, made stops as Houndslake Country Club and its First Tee program, and Hitchcock Woods later in the day.
Parker and Metz also graduated from Clemson. Parker worked for the City of Orangeburg before coming to Aiken 29 years ago, moving his way up until his appointment as the department’s director in 2001.
“This (community trip) is something I didn’t do when I was at Clemson, so I like giving back to these students,” Parker said. “One of the neat things is doing the ‘rodeo’ with them – showing them the backside of the work we do, cutting fields and other things.”
Lauren Dimaio, a Clemson sophomore, is focusing her major on working with the elderly in a recreational setting. She came to the right place Tuesday, as Aiken’s PRT coordinates dozens of programs for seniors.
Corey Hinson’s emphasis is on tourism management.
“I’ve been interested in construction and worked for a contractor for a year and a half, doing home repairs,” he said. “It was fun on the backhoe today, but I’ve never driven one before.”
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Elizabeth Dougherty gets her first experience driving a backhoe Wednesday. The Clemson student and other parks and recreation majors got to participate in a “rodeo,” courtesy of the Aiken Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.×