We’re going to take a wild guess here, but we assume that most people reading this probably have had real lows in their lives. Moments so dark and difficult that there seemed to be no way out.
These are moments that can define or destroy us. But they are also, therefore, moments where, as they say, the only way to go is up. And that is a good thing.
Rodney Wallace has had those moments. Even with his stellar career as a professional soccer player, the injuries sustained during this practice led him to develop a dependency on painkillers.
At the height of his career, his mental and physical health deteriorated… but he found a way out.
Today he has reconnected with himself and the people he loves, as well as with his mission in life: “being able to help the world”. And his way of doing so is through his new CBD brand, Rewind.
During a long and very pleasant conversation with Wallace, he told us all about his relationship with cannabis, the dark times he went through, and the good times he’s going through right now.
How did Rodney he get to the good place he is in now?
How does a professional soccer player from Costa Rica become a successful CBD entrepreneur in New York City?
Well, it turns out that cannabis has long been a big part of his life, in some way or another.
Rodney’s relationship with cannabis started when he was fairly young. His parents moved from Costa Rica to the U.S. when he was eight.
The culture was vastly different but the change was positive, he mentioned. “I’m grateful for my parents taking the risk to come to the United States to better our lives,” he said on the subject. “So shout out to them.”
When he got to the States, he already knew that cannabis existed… and that it was bad. “Marijuana is seen as a ‘bad drug’. In several South and Central American countries weed is perceived negatively,” he said.
By the time he was twelve he already knew that people around him smoked cannabis. So he tried it.
“It was maybe the summer of going into eighth grade. I remember the feeling of being high, but I was like, wow, people make such a big fuss about this. And it’s not. I’m actually having a great time.”
At that time he was already excelling at soccer and very focused on playing, apart from getting good grades. So he didn’t see the damage in loosening up a little, once in a while, even while being conscious that his friends and him probably shouldn’t have been smoking at such a young age: “I felt like okay, you know what, why not? I wasn’t doing it in an irresponsible way. We didn’t see it as a negative (thing).”
As for consuming responsibly, Wallace left it very clear that he was in no way dependent on cannabis: “I was able to flip the switch. So whenever I had to go and do something that I needed to focus on, for example, whenever I need to go to soccer practice, I thought, ‘You know what, I can’t do this because I don’t want it to affect my game. I don’t want this to be something that is going to change my performance’… But when it was time for me to switch off and relax and have a good time with the rest of my peers… That to me was not a problem. It was good. It was fun. At the end of the day, I can’t regret it. I’m glad that I went through all of these experiences as a young child.”
And then there was college. With a dream come true and a scholarship to play in the University of Maryland, he couldn’t possibly risk the chance of gettin a bad result in drug test; so he just got smarter.
Rodney says he never failed a drug test, in spite of actively consuming cannabis. Granted, this is not something he could tell many people at the time (or at the present, for that matter); but he decided to share anyways.
He did point out that he wasn’t doing any other kind of “heavier drugs,” even with other people swearing by them. “Some people would say that it actually enhanced them, but for me, I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take that risk.”
So we asked the obvious question: did he stop consuming cannabis when he started playing professionally, or at any time during the course of his career?
Shockingly, the answer was negative.
Rodney knew precisely when to smoke and when to quit… even with the persistent feeling that he shouldn’t need to hide it. “How can this be? How can we get in trouble for doing this?” he would often find himself wondering. “For me it just seems so… so natural,” he said.
But still, the need for calculating his cannabis intake grew even more, as did his knowledge of its different strains, methods of delivery and medicinal properties.
With a better income came better strain quality, and with the high physical requirements of the professional soccer world came a need for taking care of his lungs.
He now knew that it wasn’t necessary to smoke cannabis in order to enjoy it. Some people’s conditions prevent them from being able to inhale, so many other intake methods have been developed for them. Wallace was amazed by this, and he expressed his fascination with the creativity surrounding cannabis and its health benefits: “It saves lives. So people and companies and factories are getting so creative on how to deliver that for patients. It’s incredible.”
But all this research led him to, as he put it, “medicating himself.”
As we know, the line between medical use and recreational use is blurry at best: apart from official medical users who treat very serious ailments, there’s a lot of people seen as ‘recreational users’ that are actually treating conditions like anxiety, insomnia or pain. So he started medicating himself, because the stigma surrounding cannabis and his status as a soccer player didn’t exactly leave him with any other choice… or so he thought at the time.
“I had physical pain in my bones, in my muscles, from playing every day. And I’m not allowed to use it (cannabis), even if it helps people… I wasn’t rebelling in any sort of way but I was justifying it for myself even though it was against the rules.”
Looking back, he laughs at his decisions at the time: “I really thought I had it all under control, that I was ‘my own doctor’.”
He acknowledged that at times, as a young professional, he was making some dumb decisions, and people around him were totally unaware. And that’s the signature of a smart person making dumb decisions, isn’t it? People just don’t notice.
Self-medicating with cannabis didn’t have a negative impact on Rodney’s health, or his life. However, the belief that stemmed from this practice, the whole “I’m my own doctor” mantra, certainly did.
Especially when paired with the brutal lifestyle that’s required of athletes in the professional sports field.
As mentioned above, the life of a professional athlete can take a tremendous toll on the body and on the mind, and Wallace was no exception. From knee surgery, to a broken leg, to muscle pulling: he went through them all. And each and every injury came with a painkiller prescription to match, or a cortisone shot “so you don’t feel the pain before a game”.
He reflected on the awfulness of that practice, saying that it’s “pretty gross if you think about it. You’re playing with a torn muscle… you can’t feel it so you make it worse.” He then explained that what happens is that, as everyone is doing it, you are led to believe that it’s the right thing to do. If you want to be a professional athlete, you have to endure the pain and deliver results consistently. That’s the whole philosophy. It’s not like they let you behave differently. ‘No pain, no gain’, right?
And very, very wrong. “Your job is to be on the field, and your job is to perform. Your job is to score goals or defend.” The amount of pressure was unbearable, but he couldn’t let it be known. And even though they tell you that you’re in control of your own body, “realistically, you’re not”, Wallace assured. “They’re giving you whatever it is that they need to give you in order for you to play, and in order for you to be successful if you’re a player that is relied on on the team.”
You know, like he was.
So as long as games are won and results are given, the higher-ups remain happy. “But for that to happen,” Rodney explained, “you’re medicating your players. You’re making them not feel some pains, you’re making them numb”. So when surgeries are needed, so are the painkillers, “but then after a while the painkillers don’t really work.”
So as the semi-treated injuries pile up, so do the painkillers. Next thing you know, you have a whole array of pills that you can take… you have options.
It should be noted that this was all happening at one of the best moments of this athlete’s career.
He explained his thought process at the time, which is sadly one shared by many people with high pressure occupations: “ It started to be a mental thing now where it was like ‘OK, I hate the feeling of being injured and I don’t want to deal with it.’ So what do I do? I take whatever is going to make me right, whatever makes me think that I’m feeling better… and we take in more than you’re supposed to.”
Not only the pain of the injury goes away, but also the anxiety of being replaced because of that same injury. The fear of the future, of what might happen, disappears completely. More so as he got better physically, because of the treatment he was getting, not because of the drugs they gave him. So he reassured himself, the logic being that “I’m getting back to playing soon so I’ll be okay… Now I’m more responsible about it. So I’ll ease off the medications and then I’ll just go straight to just weed.”
But it didn’t get better when he got back on the field. No, the only change was in the logic of the excuses he would convince himself with: “This is what being a professional feels like, this is how it should be… I can go to practice just trashed and I’ll be OK because I’ve done it,”.
He would not be the first to trick himself into thinking ‘it’s OK, I got this, I know what I’m doing’ in this situation, and sadly he won’t be the last.
And thus began a dark and vicious cycle, where Wallace would self-medicate for the pain and use cannabis in an “attempt to control that other sort of self medication”. He admitted that this led to an excessive and irresponsible use of the plant. It wasn’t fun either, not anymore: “Now it’s becoming something else, to cover up a different feeling or a different drug. So I’m not using it responsibly, and I’m not using basically anything responsibly.”
Put the need for sleep medication (apparently quite common amongst athletes) on top of that, and what do you get? That’s right, an out-of-control spiral that Rodney was lucky to get out of alive.
“I became a person I didn’t like at all,” he shared. “I grew up seeing family members being alcoholic, so I thought it was OK to go past certain limits. ‘I’m doing all this so it must be in my blood.’ Vices in general, not just alcohol.”
At this point, he wasn’t even consuming cannabis anymore. Again, all of this happened in one of the best years of his career, which was in stark contrast with one of the worst moments of his personal life: “I hated who i was but I was so good on the field,” he said. “It kind of felt good, like I was a double person.” Until it very much didn’t.
That was when he hit rock bottom. “I guess that this is me,” he would tell himself. “I’m a monster.”
But he wasn’t; not really. Because monsters don’t learn. And he certainly did. He could see the way his whole life off the field was being affected, how he wasn’t really present or responsible with his family, how he couldn’t keep living that way, physically.
So what did he do?
He changed. Not a lot of people can do that.
He knew he had some decisions to make: “I needed to figure out what’s going on with me, what’s important to me. What I value. Do I value my life? Do I value my family or do I just not care? I was at a point where I was being blessed. I realized ‘I need to change my life’.”
So he did.
In December 2016, Rodney checked himself in a rehabilitation clinic in Malibu. “Best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” he stated. “It’s another taboo: people don’t know, but you are investing in yourself. Biggest tool I could have ever used.”
He said that, even though he stayed there for almost two months, he didn’t want to leave: that’s how well it was going for him. He even named his daughter Malibu, in tribute to the time he spent there, which saved his life.
After his time there, he didn’t feel dominated by pills, or drinks, or feelings anymore. He felt in control, at long last. “I left a completely different person. It was the person I’d always wanted to be and the person I knew I had inside me. It was me, but enhanced in the best possible way. It only made me better.”
Rodney emphasized repeatedly during our conversation the amazing support system he had during this time. His wife, his family and his friends were a huge part of his recovery, and it was in part for them that he made this change. His aim now is to “be able to be (his) best version: best dad, husband, brother, son. To give everybody my best is what drives me, being able to say ‘I’m making your day better because of how good i am’.”
We know you’re probably confused right now.
This guy went to rehab, and here we are telling you he went and founded a CBD brand, of all things.
Isn’t that a contradiction?
Well, as it turns out, it isn’t. We asked Wallace how his relationship with cannabis changed after going to rehab. He stated that he didn’t have a bad feeling toward cannabis at all. “It was not bad: I was misusing it,” he explained.
Fast forward to 2017. Things were looking up for Rodney. He had just signed with New York City FC, he was clean, and with his mind set to participate in Costa Rica’s team for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Nothing but clear skies ahead.
That is, until he started feeling a pain in his hip so horrid that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to walk, and much less play, again. He couldn’t even play with his own daughter.
He started taking prescribed pain medication again, because it wasn’t like he had much choice, but he used it responsibly and it helped.
He also underwent PRP shots.
PRP shots, or platelet-rich plasma therapy, work by extracting platelets (the cells with the most capacity for tissue regeneration) within the patient’s blood by separating them via centrifugation. They are then concentrated and reinjected in whichever area of the patient’s body is in need of treatment. This speeds up healing and works wonders on regenerating tissue, or at least that’s what many reputable doctors claim. It also implies the use of needles, which vary in size depending on the use given. In Rodney’s case, these were very, very big needles. So the procedure was, unsurprisingly, very, very painful.
Enter his wife, Haley, with a CBD bottle and a heap of research to go with it. They found out that not only is CBD an anti-inflammatory compound used to treat pain and anxiety, it’s also natural and not psychoactive. So Rodney decided to try it on his hip… and his pain was alleviated significantly: “I felt like myself again. Being hurt, in pain and coming home, that’s all you think about.”
So he started taking CBD as a part of his routine. Besides his hip, he’d massage his knees or his back with it and felt a lot better. Before bed, he took the tincture and woke up feeling great. He also took the medicine to the locker room, but there he was forced to hide it. “This seems childish,” he would think. “That I’m hiding something that’s so good for me, that’s supposed to be legal.” It certainly is.
By this stage he was at the pinnacle of his career, with no intention of quitting any time soon. His dream of being in the national team for Costa Rica came true. It was everything to him. “But because of the pain I knew I only had so many years left,” he said. “But with CBD maybe I could stay more years.”
But there was one problem: the bottle claimed that its contents had a 0.3% of THC. Was that tiny amount going to appear on a drug test? Was this a risk he’d have to worry about? He also started noticing a bit of a “head high”, paired with a slight case of the munchies. Besides, the tincture tasted terrible, like “wax, baby oil, petroleum and weed plant mixed. Disgusting.” So he started taking soft gel capsules, which were much better but had a tendency to melt in the bottle that they came in. They worked, but they weren’t perfect.
So Wallace decided to make them perfect. Someone told him to make his own CBD extract, so he just kept thinking about it and talking about it with his wife, until he decided to just go for it.
Come 2018, he was already researching different labs, looking to make a product with absolutely no THC in it. He wasn’t taking any risks, and didn’t want his potential customers to do so either: “I want it to be in every single locker room, for every single player to use, and I want them to feel what I felt.”
That’s when Rewind was born.
His goal is for athletes to be able to perform better due to the lack of pain, but without the awful side effects he experienced with pain killers. CBD just works differently: if you apply it topically it works on that area, and in an edible or oil format, it takes over your whole neural system, but he explained that the difference is that “you’re just in control, in your zone… We use the best CBD that I could have ever taken or put in my body.”
He’s very much aware of the unfounded stigma that persists in regards to CBD. In regards to that, he assured that he doesn’t “care what people may think about anything that I do. I’m doing this for the right reasons.”
And what are those reasons, you may ask yourselves. “Pay it forward to the game,” he provided proudly. “The game gave so much, and for a while I couldn’t give back because of my mental state. And now this is my way of giving back to the game. But not only to the game, also to those who might be going through the same situation that I went through. For people in general… I’m going to do something better, to change people’s lives.”
So that’s the heart of it, really. He finished our conversation with a beautiful sentiment, stating that “The idea of Rewind came from bettering the game, bettering the athletes and bettering people’s lives in general, because I knew it wasn’t just for athletes. Being able to help the rest of the world, that is a mission for me. I wanted to leave a legacy for my kids. That’s something my wife Haley and I talk a lot. Whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it for them. Our intentions are pure. Whatever we do, it feels big, and it feels impactful.”
Undeniably, it is.
Article written in collaboration with Marian Venini.