Photo provided by Giuliana Rodrigues

Facing off against the Finnish reigning Junior World Champions, Weinberg first-year Giuliana Rodrigues was unsure of how her club synchronized skating team would perform. Rodrigues had been training since she was nine in synchronized skating, a discipline in which a team, consisting of 16 skaters at her level, performs together. As a teenager, she often practiced up to 12 hours per week, waking up at the crack of dawn and crossing state borders for practice. In January, her team was at its first international competition of the season, the 2024 Budapest Cup, after nearly a year of training together.

Rodrigues didn’t need to worry: Her team won their level of the Budapest Cup and carried that momentum to win their level at the Hevelius Cup in Poland and the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. To wrap up the season, her team placed fourth at the 2024 Junior World Synchronized Skating Championships in Switzerland.

After taking winter quarter off to focus on synchronized skating, Rodrigues, who is from Arlington Heights, Ill., is back on campus. Now that she has retired from the sport, she is approaching her life at NU with the skills and mindset it gave her.

Rodrigues, a Data Science and Statistics major, juggled intense skating training and academics during Fall Quarter. Although balancing her workload with her sport was stressful, she said she is glad she persisted with skating, a passion that was heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I realized that it’s a really good way of channeling my energy into something productive,” she said. “I feel really good when I’m working towards a long term goal by just showing up every day and practicing and failing and eventually succeeding.”

Rodrigues joined a club called Teams Elite during her junior year of high school, making this past competition season her second with the team. She said she enjoys the team aspect of synchronized skating because everyone is putting in the same level of hard work. Amy Ji, who was Rodrigues’ teammate on Teams Elite for two years, emphasized the importance of the group effort.

“Especially with a synchronized team, it’s really the collaboration and the bonding that comes out of it,” Ji said. “And it’s not just the rewards that we get, but it’s also the journey there, and bonding with my teammates is such a reward in itself.”

Ji also highlighted Rodrigues’ role on the team as someone whose creativity and storytelling stands out.

“She really knows how to move her body,” Ji said. “And she’s really good with showing that artistic and performative side of her, which is what makes her shine so much.”

Rodrigues’ success in the sport came from relentless effort and dedication, her father Agostinho Rodrigues said. He has spent years waking up at 5 a.m. to drive his daughter to skating practice, which is sometimes as far away as Wisconsin.

“It takes a lot of effort from obviously the parents, but a lot of discipline and hard work from the girls to be able to compete at that level,” he said.

Her father said the skills Rodrigues has gained from skating are invaluable and her drive and passion have made her a role model to her parents and her sisters — a twin and a 14-year-old.

“The thing about Giuliana is she has the grit and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get where she wants to go,” he said.

Despite retiring from the sport, Rodrigues still has a deep appreciation for synchronized skating, watching competitions and often helping her younger sister who is pursuing skating as well. Rodrigues sends her sister feedback based on videos of her skating and helps her at the rink when she visits home.

“I’m definitely kind of sad because I feel like I didn’t hit my ceiling in terms of how good I can get at skating,” Rodrigues said. “But I have a responsibility to myself to focus on my education and to make the most out of my time here at Northwestern.”

Now that she can fully focus on her education, Rodrigues said she is looking forward to embracing the Northwestern experience by taking advantage of opportunities and joining new communities.

“I’m really excited about this new chapter of my life,” she said. “It’s been really great to be back here and be able to just do the whole college thing for the first time.”