CHEYENNE - On Jan. 2, Tyger Rodriguez, 17, of Torrington, found himself in unusual circumstances. He was adorned in handcuffs, shackles and an orange jumpsuit, seated in the backseat of a patrol car, and escorted to various appointments by local deputies in hopes of being accepted into the upcoming Wyoming Cowboy ChallNGe Academy class starting Jan. 8 at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center.
Dawson Reifschneider, a close friend of Rodriguez’s who had just graduated class 30 Dec. 10, 2016, was a proponent of the program and the possibilities it would give Rodriguez. So much so that he was the one that made a stop by Rodriguez’s residence one evening while Tyger was in county jail to talk to his mom, Alicia, and urge her to pursue the program in lieu of further legal ramifications for Tyger.
“Dawson told me they had a class just about to start. I made calls and Tyger and I agreed he would attempt to enroll which was a far jump because we only had a handful of days to meet all the requirements for enrollment,” said Alicia.
Alicia’s persistent efforts over just a few days resulted in Tyger reporting to Camp Guernsey Jan. 8 in the same shackles that bound him during the application process, where he embarked on a 22-week journey to graduate the WCCA program, recover his academic credits and earn his high school diploma.
“With Tyger leaving and being gone, things kind of changed drastically,” said his sister, Tayte Rodriguez, 16, also of Torrington. “Having a brother, you get used to seeing him every day when you wake up and go to bed. Then all of the sudden it goes weeks since the last time you saw him. It all really just takes some getting used to.”
Tyger’s reserved demeanor might lead others to assume he doesn’t have a whole lot of people in his inner circle. The quietness he portrays is in stark contrast from the reality of his large, fiercely supportive, inner circle. These people: mother, girlfriend, son, wrestling coach, friends and cousins, are only a small fraction of those who have helped shape and support his current path of positive change.
Tyger, who had home pass from the WCCA program for five days at the end of March, was able to see friends and family for the first time since reporting to the program 11 weeks earlier.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I first showed up to the program. It was a lot of structure, but it was better than the alternative,” he said, referring to the transition of going from six days of isolation in the county jail to reporting to the WCCA program.
Alicia recalled the emotional goodbye she experienced with her son and how difficult the first couple weeks of his absence were. Even harder on Alicia than her son’s absence, were the life memories she knew he was missing.
“Missing his senior year of wrestling has been the biggest downfall,” she said fighting back tears. Alicia knows how much wrestling meant to Tyger, who placed 2nd at state wrestling as a freshman, 2nd as a sophomore, and 3rd as a junior - barely losing to an opponent he had beaten just the week prior.
“I wasn’t going to go to senior night. I hadn’t been to a wrestling meet all season,” said Alicia, alluding to the fact it was too hard on her to be there without Tyger. “But then my nephew came over and asked me to come to senior night. Even though I didn’t want to go, I did. When I showed up, all the parents and the entire team were wearing buttons they had made for Tyger. It was way cool, but at the same time, so, so hard,” she said.
Although sports are a huge passion for Tyger, the schoolwork wasn’t.
“Trying to get up and get him to go to school was a huge challenge. He is so smart, but just hated going to school. Now he writes me letters (from the program) telling me what he wants to do after graduating the program and how he wants to get his diploma,” said Alicia.
Tyger, now less than eight weeks from graduation, is working on recovering credits in four classes.
“If he will work his butt off, the day he graduates the program, he can potentially have his high school diploma,” said Alicia.
Tyger has been working. Working to recover credits, improve his future, return to friends and family and to graduate June 10.
The struggles and sacrifices of the cadets are often recognized; not often noted are the residual effects left on family, friends and teammates - those left in the hometowns vacated for 22 weeks by the cadets that attend the program.
For Tyger, those struggles have been eased by keeping his eye on the goal and taking the program one day at a time.
“I’ve realized my real friends are still here. Still supportive,” said Tyger. “It’ll all be worth it when I walk across that stage on graduation day.”