It’s no secret that the game of poker brings people together from all walks of life, but every now and then you come across a person so extraordinary that their story deserves an even brighter spotlight. Making his debut on Poker After Dark tomorrow, Darol Rodrock is one of those extraordinary people, and by shining a light on his life, its struggles and accomplishments, we hope to generate awareness for a cause he’s been fighting for all his life: The foster care system in the United States.
Rodrock is a businessman, entrepreneur, and coach who beat astronomical odds to get where he is today. With his Darol Rodrock Foundation, the businessman and poker aficionado hopes to improve the lives of foster kids in the United States, as he spent most of his childhood without the love and care of his parents.
“I’m the one-outer. I’ve beaten the statistics,” Rodrock said, before providing context to his life story and the childhood struggles he had to go through.
Rodrock was born into a large family, his parents marrying seven times over the course of his childhood. Brothers, sisters, and Darol himself ended up in orphanages and the foster care system, neither of which proved to be a permanent solution or provide a clear path to a better life.
“I was beaten more than 100 times by my dad. My dad was in prison, my brother was in prison and I went from foster home to foster home. You can say that I grew up in a very dysfunctional family, and I went back and forth between orphanages. When I was 12, I lived on the streets for about 6-8 weeks.”
Now 74-years old, full of life and very sharp, Rodrock focuses on giving back to help those in need at a point in life where they’re arguably at their most vulnerable. According to Rodrock, when foster kids reach the age of 18 the government stops supporting them and their foster families, essentially putting them on the street unless someone steps in.
“Only 2% of foster kids ever go to college, 1% graduates, and less than one-tenth of 1% gets a Master’s degree. I did all that, became a successful coach, won state championships, was successful in business and now I have 87 communities that house over 35,000 people.”
Rodrock continued by sharing some more jaw-dropping statistics on a problem he says is largely forgotten and lacking public awareness.
“74% of foster girls get pregnant before they are 21 after they ‘age out’ at 18. With no income, no job and no support, more than 50% of them end up homeless. 72% of boys have a police record before they turn 21. Billions and billions are being spent on these foster kids, and then we turn right around and piss all that money away when they turn 18 by dumping them on the streets. That’s where my campaign comes in, to give these kids support after they turn 18, for however long they need it. Right now, I’m working on raising $20 million in funds to build housing for ‘aged out’ foster kids. I want to raise awareness for that because most people don’t even know this is going on.”
“I got a call just last week from a 21-year old foster girl working in prostitution just to pay her rent. She didn’t want to be in prostitution, but she was helpless. No degree, no skills, just dumped on the street. It’s my passion to stop this from having to be a reality for these kids.”
Drawing back on his own experiences, Rodrock found inspiration and support and combined with a large dose of motivation he managed to fight through and make his way out of the system.
“It was a very tough time, but I think I was given a lot of inspiration, and I showed grit and determination to get where I am today. When I speak to kids these days I always tell them, ‘Because your folks decided to do something, you get to decide to do something. They decided how to live their lives, and that means you get to decide on yours. That’s a great gift.’ The problem is that they need help, and that’s why I build housing for foster kids.”
Personal inspiration and grit
“People ask me all the time “So, how did you do it?” and that’s something I now try to describe as well as I can in the book that’s coming out at the end of February. I think I was given a spiritual gift. When I was in the orphanage at 10 years old, the minister said to me and all the other kids, “Jesus loves you.” I had no idea who this dude was, so when I went home I asked the housekeeper. She said, “He’s dead and you can’t meet him.” I go to school the next day and my teacher told me the whole story. Before that, I couldn’t tell Jesus from Mike or John or Harry, but that made me grow up with the inspiration of Jesus’ story. That made me believe that I was more than I really was.”
“One of the chapters in my book is titled ‘LDR’, or ‘Lucky Darol Rodrock’. People think that I’m a very lucky person, but I go by ‘Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.’ If you’re willing to work harder than the next guy, go to school, study harder, show up early, work late, be your best, people are going to say “That sucker, he’s just lucky.” But in fact, he prepared for the opportunity. I followed that up by saying, don’t let your emotions get tied to the results. If you don’t get the call, or the job, don’t go down into the hole. In poker, they call that tilt. Don’t let your emotions get tied to the result, and I use these little rules in life when things don’t work out and keep preparing for what’s next. I show grit, I show determination. In poker, it seems awfully hard to prepare for luck, maybe I haven’t learned how to do that just yet.”
Rodrock found inspiration through religion, but he doesn’t see himself as an inspirational speaker. What happened to the teacher from back in his childhood days? After losing contact for many decades, he reconnected with her and speaks to her on a regular basis as she’s well into her nineties.
“I’m not a motivational speaker. If I had to motivate them to study they wouldn’t do it in the first place. Great teachers, great leaders, and people that inspire are very important for these kids. Down the line, in their own future, they might forget my name or forget what I said, but if they find inspiration and motivation through the people that we try to surround them with, I’ll be very happy.”
Just a few weeks ago Rodrock and his foundation hosted a Christmas party for 225 foster kids who were bussed in from a 200-mile radius. The kids were given gifts, Christmas carols were sung and good times were had by all.
“Those are just some of the little things that we do for the kids aside from the big thing which is providing housing,” Rodrock said about the Christmas event.
“When I talk to these kids I tell them what they can expect from life, what the circumstances will be, that it will be very difficult, and I tell them it will take grit and determination and self-perseverance. The biggest thing I tell them is about getting out of the shadows of your life. The story I always tell goes as follows. When you’re in an airplane and you’re about to land, you see the shadow of the airplane but you don’t see your own. I tell them that I felt like my parents were casting that kind of shadow over my life. I couldn’t see myself. I was beaten, I was abused, just like you, I tell these kids. I tell them, ‘We have to get out of our shadows because we were born and there is a purpose in our lives.’ I always tell them, ‘I can and I will. Can is the body, and Will is the spirit. I can’t give you the spirit, you have to find it.’
“My foundation is here for them. They can call us when they need us. They will get discouraged and I understand that. I talked to a room with more than 200 people a few months ago, and they didn’t know who I was, and asked the room, “If you’re a foster kid please raise your hand.” Of course, everyone raised their hand, and I said, ‘But I think there’s one more foster kid in here that I don’t think you’ve met,’ and I raised my own hand, and went in to talk about my own story. I tell them, ‘I can’t compare my story to yours, what you’re going through or who you are, but let me share my story’ to make them see and realize that they can survive.”
“I would love for people to contribute to my foundation, but there are foster kids in every city and every state, and there is no housing for them once they age out. There is not one housing situation in America, not one, for foster kids after the age of 18. The simple fact of bringing awareness about these kids is big. If people are aware of this problem and help in their own counties and cities, then I’ve done my job.
“If you want to contribute to my foundation? That would be great too. My housing project will be the first one in America for foster kids after the age of 18. This has never been done in America, just think about that. It’s a trauma for kids to lose their parents, in whatever way it happened, and it’s not right that we stop helping them when they turn 18. We spend billions of dollars raising them, and then we desert them. We should help them and support them into adulthood until they can take care of themselves.
The Game of Poker
Tying poker into a story as powerful and inspiring as Darol Rodrock’s story seems near impossible, but when talking about one of his favorite pastimes his big personality shines through and shows once again that the game has a different meaning for everyone. That one-outer he had to hit in life in order to escape his situation? He’s dealt with the opposite end of that at the poker table.
“You can’t prepare in cards like you can prepare in life. Cards come on an odds basis, but that means they also come when you don’t want them there. It’s a little different game but it fascinates me and I love it,” Rodrock said after talking about a hand in Pot-Limit Omaha in which he flopped quad fives only to get outdrawn by his opponent who hit running aces to hit quads as well.
“It sounds stupid, but it’s almost spiritual. Sometimes you need that inside jack, and I’ll be damned, that inside-jack shows up,” Rodrock said about that one card helping and sometimes saving you, but in other situations, it sends you home.
“It’s amazing because we can all figure out the odds, and very often the odds don’t hold up, and that’s part of what makes it a fascinating game. I enjoy people, I love being at the table, telling jokes and socializing with everyone. I always have a lot of fun, and I draw energy from the game and from people. I’ve been playing for 8-10 years and there’s still so much to learn, but I did get deep in a $500 event at the Venetian this past summer. I know I can play, as long as I don’t get too impulsive. However, I do try to win instead of trying not to lose. There’s a big difference between those two things, but sometimes I perhaps try a bit too hard to win,” Rodrock said jokingly.
“My son introduced me to poker years ago. I had just come home from work and I was falling asleep in my chair. My son said, ‘Dad, what are you doing falling asleep in your chair at 6 pm?’ and he introduced me to internet poker. I gradually started playing poker, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t take any lessons to do it right, but I love the comradery of the game. I love the people I get to play with, and on top of that – as a 74-year old – it helps me to keep focused and keeps my mind sharp.”
“It’s also away from the business world, which can be stressful as everyone knows. If poker was about winning money I wouldn’t be here, most people don’t win money long term, it’s about the excitement, relaxing, and learning along the way while not letting my emotions get in the way. When things don’t work out you go on tilt sometimes, but you just have to prevent that snowball from becoming an avalanche. I try to apply that to poker to keep me going, and if you can manage your wins and losses as best as you can, you can always have a lot of fun with it.”
On Tuesday night, Rodrock will make his debut under the bright lights of the PokerGO set, as he’s going to be one of the players on the latest live Poker After Dark action. Rodrock will play in the $50/$100 game headlined by Antonio Esfandiari. Don’t miss any of the action, live and exclusively on PokerGO.