A San Antonio high school senior turned what could have been an upsetting moment for a young girl into an uplifting one last weekend.
Nine-year-old cheerleader Addie Rodriguez was performing with her team at a football game at Central Catholic (Texas) High School when the girls were joined on the field by their parents. After the mothers did a routine with their daughters, the fathers then lifted their daughters onto their shoulders.
Rodriguez’s father, however, wasn’t there. Abel Rodriguez, a senior airman and medevac tech in the Air Force who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is currently training at Travis Air Force base in California.
“It was really heartbreaking to see your daughter standing out there being the only one without their father, knowing why he’s away,” Addie’s mother, Alexis Perry-Rodriguez, told San Antonio’s WOAI. “It’s not just an absentee parent. He’s serving our country.”
As Addie burst into tears thinking of her father, Central Catholic senior Matthew Garcia ran down from the bleachers and hoisted Rodriguez up as the other fathers were.
“I ran down from the bleachers right here,” Garcia told WOAI, “and I just hopped the fence, and I went over, and I kneeled down, I talked to her and I said, ‘Are you OK?’”
Rodriguez, a fourth-grader at St. John Bosco Elementary School, told WOAI, “I felt like somebody saved my life. I thought that’s so nice, especially since my dad’s serving for us.”
Garcia is a captain of the Central Catholic cross-country team, a four-year member of the school’s ROTC program and the director of the school’s Big Brother program. He was at the field watching his younger brother play for St. Luke Catholic School against St. John Bosco.
He told TODAY that going through his parents’ divorce when he was a young boy before his mother remarried made him sympathetic to Addie Rodriguez’s situation.
“I understood what it was like to not have a dad there, so when I saw her crying like that, it just struck a chord with me,” Garcia told TODAY. “It was instinct, I guess. I just couldn’t see her like that.”