Joi Rodriguez’s Road to Recovery
by Danika Rice
There is little that prepares you for unexpected loss, unexpected tragedy caused by no fault of anyone’s wrongdoing, but instead by the simple hand of fate.
For 50 year old Joi Rodriguez, April 13, 2011 was just another day. She was headed down the highway with her three beloved Jack Russell Terriers, her cat in the tack room, and a trailer with six horses. Two she was hauling for friends, the others were younger, and she planned to drop them off in Houston for friend Chad Bowman to play for her during the spring season. The winter season in Sarasota, Florida had come to a close, and it was time to head home to Oklahoma. A little after 1:30pm, on a quiet stretch of I-10 near DeFuniak Springs, Florida, the right front tire of Joi’s dually separated, sending her and her precious cargo off the road and into a concrete culvert before being smashed between trees lining the road. Pinned in a jumbled mess of metal that used to be the cab of her truck, Joi’s first concern was for her animals traveling with her.
Unable to free herself, Joi remained conscious as emergency responders made it to the scene. With the faintest whisper, she asked the sheriff, “How are my animals?” For two hours while EMT’s worked to free her from the wreckage, Joi inquired frequently about the animals she had with her. The three Jack Russells had all survived. The cat was alive, but had run off, evading of rescue workers. And although her left arm was shattered, collarbone broken and no doubt in immense physical pain, it was Joi’s heart that cried out the most as she learned that four of her six trailer passengers had lost their lives in the accident. And it was in that instant that the polo world stepped up to recognize a woman of great character. Someone who had so often worked so hard to help everyone else was now in need of help of her own, and without a second’s hesitation, she became surrounded by the ones who had so often relied on her.
The Truest of Hearts
A humble woman of few words regarding herself, Joi’s only self-evaluation is as a “horse-a-holic, through and through.” She finds distinct understanding in the animals around her, often a little more so than people! But to get the truest sense of who Joi is, all you have to do is ask her friends to speak about her. Not a single person can refuse a smile as they begin to talk about Joi’s infectious laugh, or kind heart, or kindred connection to animals.
Longtime friend Pam Mudra claims, “She has always had a knack for finding a Billy [Pam’s husband] horse. In the 16 years we’ve known her; we’ve purchased 15-20 horses from her……and still have 7 to this day. We lived only 100 miles down the road, so we’d often meet for a greasy burger and a horse swap at exit 1.” Julia Schroder has spent years under the watchful eye of Joi, taking lessons and learning to ride green horses in Florida. “She’s been a mentor, and a great friend,” Julia says. “She has a positive impact on everyone’s life, but I know especially mine. I am not good with words to describe these things, but if you look at our pictures and memories together, that says it all.”
Hollis Onetto regards her as “a person who works with you, not for you. Joi works for the horses. She works endless, tedious hours with a smile and gently earns the respect of each horse in the barn. Never have Horacio and I been so blessed to have such an utterly professional horsewoman in our company. You can be so proud of everything she does, from the simplest to the most complex levels.”
Professional players to patrons, grooms to horse trainers….they are all the same to Joi. They are family, linked in an industry based on the animals that captured her heart from the time she was a little girl in Minnesota.
Recovery, Polo Style
For the endless amount of miles between clubs and horses, varying seasons and inclement job opportunities, the polo world was the biggest part of Joi’s family.
So as news traveled, via phone calls and social media, about Joi’s wreck, the polo world sprang into action. Friends from Sarasota assisted with arrangements for the two surviving horses and the dogs to have some recovery time at a local shelter before enduring another traumatic trip home to Sarasota. Friends drove up to Pensacola, Florida where Joi is currently recovering at the Sacred Heart Hospital to see her through many surgeries and painful physical therapy.
Pam Mudra orchestrated “Polo for a Cause” at the Houston Polo Club, as a fundraiser for Joi to assist with medical bills and recovery, as well as coordinating with Dodge to replace Joi‘s truck when she is ready to drive again. David Offen and the Polo Players Support Group (www.polo support.com) have organized donations on Joi’s behalf. Tammy Livingston is offering a portion of her Silpada jewelry sales to benefit Joi. As this is written, Joi remains in the hospital, undergoing hopefully the last surgery in the beginning of her long healing process, and looking toward heading home in July.
A true testament to strength, determination and the kindness and empathy we all hope to have for our animals, there is no shortage of people beyond grateful for Joi’s resolve to heal and move forward from this horrific accident. Grateful for her inspiration, and grateful for knowing that their lives will continue to be touched and influenced by this kind and generous woman who is a true representation of a horsewoman and friend in not only the polo world, but to the horse industry as a whole.