Gulliver Prep senior Rylee Podrog has a non-profit organization called Empowering Women through Martial Arts.
“I’m a black belt in Taekwondo,” she says. “I found martial arts gave me confidence I would not have had. The goal is to give other women the opportunity to gain the same confidence and empowerment I found in martial arts.”
She started martial arts at age three.
“Martial arts was always there for me,” she says. “I think my parents wanted me to be ready for the world. If you get involved in it early, you’ll have the skills. I have people in my dojo who are in their 50s.”
She also does Jujitsu and Aikido, so she knows Brazilian, Korean and Japanese martial arts.
She is a first-degree black belt and can work her way up to a tenth-degree.
“For every degree, it takes that many years to get there,” she says. “I would like to keep doing it, as long as I can. I know it’s a lifelong sport.”
Podrog also participated in gymnastics and dance but gave up both in middle school.
“I still have both of my splits from when I did dance,” she says. “Since we stretch before every Taekwondo class, I’ve been able to keep the flexibility.”
The thing about martial arts is the goal of learning the sport is not to win a fight.
“It’s to reduce conflict,” she says. “If you train, and you find yourself in a situation, discipline and self-control are key. You don’t want to engage. You want to dissolve the conflict.”
She believes martial arts are open to everyone.
“You don’t have to be a certain age or gender; everyone can do it,” she says.
Through her non-profit, she’s working with the City of South Miami and the community around her dojo, South Miami Taekwondo, to give out scholarships and conduct self-defense classes for the women and girls in the community.
“We teach self-defense techniques,” she says. “We teach them to resolve the conflict as soon as possible and to run away as soon as they can disengage. The best self-defense is to not be there.”
Even after Podrog goes off to college, her sister, Sophie, who is the co-founder of the non-profit, will keep it going.
Podrog’s community service work does not end there. She also goes to Earlington Heights Elementary School on Saturdays to help underprivileged children improve their literacy with Achieve Miami.
“We partner off with students there,” she says. “We’re assigned a Little Buddy. We read and write with them. It’s fostering a love of reading and a love of learning. When we walk in, there is a table of books and their eyes light up.”
She loves the idea that the children who attend Achieve Miami now have small libraries in their homes.
“You are giving this child to get resources they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get,” she says.
At Gulliver, she’s the yearbook people editor and she edits for the school’s social science journal. She’s worked on both the yearbook and the journal since her freshman year.
She applied Early Action to Yale. Her college list also includes Harvard, Dartmouth, University of Chicago, and Georgetown.
She’s still undecided on a major.
“I’m very much a literary minded person. Being an English major would make a lot of sense,” she says. “But, I absolutely adore physics.”
Because of that dilemma, she’s working on figuring things out.
“My plan for college is to explore and figure out what I want to do,” she says. “I’ll have pure intellectual freedom.”
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld