A military hero's mountaineering challenge: Seven summits

Marlene Rodriguez 1 of 500 women to receive Purple Heart

By Max Massey - Reporter/Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - Who is Marlene Rodriguez?

Marlene Rodriguez served in the military from 2003 until she was medically retired in 2013 after the last time she was hit by an improvised explosive device.

I suffered a traumatic brain injury, I was knocked unconscious and medivacked and put under to reduce the swelling, and once I came out, I developed a seizure disorder and that's what put me out of the military.

After years of rehabilitation, and helping fellow veterans, Rodriguez has a new mission.

My plan is to be the first female Purple Heart veteran to attempt the seven summits. The first attempt will be Mount Kilimanjaro.

What motivates Rodriguez?

While serving, Rodriguez was leading her platoon overseas when they were hit by an IED, and she lost one of her own, 21-year-old Kevin McRay Jones. 

He was my first mold, the first person I could mentor, and it hit me hard.

Jones' death left Rodriguez suffering from survivor's guilt.

I kind of live my life for him, I kind of live my life through him, everything I do every day is for him because he's not here anymore.

Rodriguez wears a bracelet with Jones' name on it and even got his name tattooed on her, so now she wants to take him to the top.

My goal is to take him to the top of the world what more place could you be at than the top of the world.

What does Rodriguez expect from this challenge?

This expedition is going to make a drastic change for me. I know it's a lot of hard work and mental stability to get up the mountain, but I gotta do both. They go hand-in-hand.

Rodriguez said she thinks this experience is going to also help other veterans she works with.

Getting to the top of the mountain is going to help not only me, but help others that you can overcome your disabilities.

How is Rodriguez Training?

Rodriguez turned her living room into a makeshift gym with weights, cardio equipment and several workout machines. She even has a special training mask to help replicate the tough breathing conditions she plans to experience on top of the mountains. 

And when Rodriguez isn't at home, she's training at Warrior Fitness Center

And even when she's on the move, there are no excuses.

When I'm away out of town at a hotel ill use their stairway and climb up and down them.

How does Rodriguez help veterans?

She helps out the Military Support Foundation. She was given the Ford Go Further Award, which included the Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who surprised her with a 2018 Mustang. 

I feel like its an epidemic for us, we hold inside everything that we did out there or what we saw out there just the terror out, we hold it inside and we can never release it.

Rodriguez helps her fellow veterans fight post-traumatic stress disorder, and avoid and overcome homelessness.

There's a lot of homeless veterans, and that should just not happen. That doesn't make sense to me. That should just not happen.

How can I help?

Rodriguez and the groups helping her raise money for her journey have set up a GoFundMe account for people interested in helping out.


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