Spanish karateka Paula Rodriguez lives a unique double life, managing to pursue her dream of becoming an Olympic athlete alongside working as a firefighter.
The European champion and world silver medallist from Madrid aims to make the Spanish team for Tokyo 2020, where karate will make its Olympic debut.
In order to achieve her goal, Rodriguez has set herself a challenging schedule. Every 24 hours on call as a firefighter in the Spanish military are followed by four days of intensive karate training and competition. She admits she has to work harder than most, as it is not currently possible to make a living from karate in her country. But she does not regard juggling her twin passions as a hardship: “When you love what you do, it’s not that bad,” she says.
Rodriguez’s path into karate began when she was 10 years old, when she started tagging along with friends to classes and soon discovered that she had a natural aptitude for the sport.
Joining the national team aged 17, she was quick to taste success, as she was crowned individual European champion before her 18th birthday in the category of cadet kata at the 2003 European Cadet & Junior Championships; the same year she won a bronze medal at the World Cadet & Junior Championships.
She put it down to “beginner’s luck”, but it was clearly much more than that. There was further success when she won a silver medal as part of Spain’s women’s team kata at the 2016 World Championships, alongside a gold in the team event at the European Championships the same year.
Karate has helped me become the person I am today, personally and professionally.Paula Rodriguez Spain
The Spaniard insists that the level of discipline required in karate helps her in her job.
“Karate has helped me become the person I am today, personally and professionally. Discipline helps you with everything. How to behave, how to work, to train and fight without losing focus.”
Rodriguez’s fellow firefighters are quick to praise their multi-talented colleague, who has worked alongside them for 10 years, describing her as “exceptional”. In a job where “your life depends on your colleagues”, a strong team ethos is even more critical than in sport. She refers to her workmates as her second family, due to the intense shifts and experiences they share. This supportive work environment also means that she never has to miss a training session or competition.
Although trying to take things step by step in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020, Rodriguez’s sheer determination and positive mindset stand her in good stead for her bid to become one of karate’s first Olympic medallists.