Frontline Worker Spotlight: From the Titan Games to 12-Hour Shifts Testing for COVID

June 28, 2020 by
Photo Credit: Steve Dietl/NBC
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2020 has been an eventful year for Robbie Rodriguez.

It started when the urgent care nurse and former CrossFit Games regionals athlete decided to apply for NBC’s The Titan Games after a friend tagged him on Instagram.

  • “Next thing you know I got an email saying I got a tryout. I thought it might be a scam. And then two minutes later I got a phone call and we were discussing tryouts,” said 30-year-old Rodriguez, who didn’t know much about what he was getting into at the time.

In January, Rodriguez, along with what he estimated was about 100 other hopefuls, flew to California for the Titan Games combine. At the end of the tryout, Rodriguez was selected for the NBC series — a show that puts contestants through various mental and physical tests to become a “Titan.” Rodriguez’s episode airs tonight, Monday, June 29.

  • “It was so great meeting all these other athletes — powerlifters, Olympic lifters, strongmen — there was even a monster car driver — police, firefighters, military — all coming together,” said the former CrossFit Regionals competitor.

Then he headed to Atlanta, GA at the end of January to film the show. After that, it was back to Miami in February to compete at Wodapalooza Fitness Festival.

  • “And then, bam, coronavirus,” Rodriguez said.

All of a sudden, his focus shifted far away from fitness and toward testing patients for COVID-19 at Baptist Urgent Care in Miami, a clinic that turned a portion of their clinic into a coronavirus testing site.

Rodriguez, who normally trains at CrossFit Soul in Miami, lives in an apartment and doesn’t have a home gym like many other high-level CrossFit athletes. Fitness during the lockdown mostly involved running, he explained.

  • “My knees took a beating during the lockdown,” Rodriguez said with a laugh.

But instead of dwelling about what he lost, Rodriguez accepted his new challenge and embraced his role as a frontline worker putting in 12 to 14-hour shifts to fight a global pandemic.

Though his nursing team rotated in terms of who would work in the testing site at the clinic, Rodriguez usually volunteered for the role whenever he got the chance.

  • “A lot of the other nurses have families and kids, and were more worried about being exposed. I don’t have kids, so I’d often volunteer to (test patients),” he said.

Rodriguez admits there have been moments of anxiety — like when he receives phone calls from health officials telling him how many COVID-positive patients he tested the previous week — but a bigger obstacle has been helping others with their anxiety.

  • “The biggest challenge has just been dealing with everyone’s questions or concerns because everyone has the same concern. They come in scared. ‘I need to know if it’s COVID because I have a history of asthma.’ Or they’ll Google and be like, ‘This test is only 40 percent accurate. I need to get tested again,’” he said.
  • “So reassuring them has been the biggest challenge. To comfort those who are more anxious than myself,” Rodriguez added.

His gym has reopened and he briefly experienced a quieter time at work, but things have ramped back up again at the clinic in recent days, he explained.

  • “Last Friday I worked, and we saw 89 patients. That’s pretty hectic for four nurses and two doctors,” he said.

Through the chaos, Rodriguez has managed to keep his head, his sense of humor and has remained positive. And, of course, he has remained committed to his fitness.

  • “How do I have the energy to train so hard after a 12-hour shift? Um, a good pre-workout. And coffee,” he joked.
  • He added: “But honestly, I really just enjoy training and going through the highs and lows of competition. It drives me to get to the gym and do whatever I can to improve.”

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