Beyond the Mat: Robert Ruiz
Tim Jackson, the Head Editor of the school newspaper, has agreed to join the wrestling program for a season-long series of articles highlighting the program and it's wrestlers through stories from both on and off the mat. Tim has put together an extensive series of article topics. Below is the 10th story in the series.
For some, it takes years of practice. For others, it seems natural. Much like any other sport, wrestling features both those who started young and worked tirelessly before they determined wrestling was their sport of choice and those who stepped on the mat and knew almost instantaneously. Neither group works harder than the other. The sport just resonates with people at different times.
Robert Ruiz, a 133-pound freshman, the latter group is closest to his wrestling experience. Ruiz, despite his relative inexperience on the mat, has stepped into the spotlight that is division one wrestling and excelled in his first year. Most recently, Ruiz captured the Messiah Open title for his weight class.
It wasn't until 2006 Ruiz picked up wrestling. He still considers himself new to the sport, but that does not mean he lacks the skill, drive, or work ethic necessary to compete at the highest levels of competition. In fact, Ruiz has excelled ever since he first stepped onto the mat.
"I started wrestling in November 2006," Ruiz said. "I'm still new to the sport. I saw wrestling for the first time when I was 14 or 15. When I saw it, I was like, 'What is this?' When I first stepped on the mat, I took down this 171-pounder and I knew wrestling was something I wanted to stick with. I never thought twice about wrestling."
In a way, wrestling was a blessing for Ruiz. The sport has kept him dedicated and kept him focused. Growing up in Hartford, Ruiz described his childhood days as "kind of ghetto." While many of his friends fell by the wayside, Ruiz elected to stay true to his newfound passion. It kept him on the straight and narrow and now, when he returns home, many of the friends he used to hang out with wish they had listened to Ruiz more when they had the chance.
"I grew up in Hartford. A lot of my friends were out there and they started just hanging out and doing drugs," Ruiz said. "I go back to Hartford and see my friends and they always say they should've listened to me more. I never really followed anybody, except for my teachers and my mother, of course."
"Wrestling has made me…ever since kindergarten I was very focused," Ruiz added. "My Mom taught me everything I needed to know. I mean everything about everything."
Talking to Ruiz is a fascinating experience. When he discusses his childhood, background, and where he's come from, it's clear he has beaten the odds. He speaks of experiences and situations that few can imagine, let alone claim to understand. However, intertwined within all the tales and experiences is his mother. For Ruiz, even before wrestling began to influence him, his mother was the one who ensured he wouldn't stray from the right path.
Ruiz likes to tell a story about how, one day during his early childhood years, he picked up a twenty-dollar bill off the street. He brought it home with him and, as soon as his mother came home from work, she could tell something was wrong. Rather than hide and keep the money for himself, Ruiz turned it over to his mother so she could at least try and find its owner.
Unfortunately, as life progressed, Ruiz's mother fell on hard times, turning to drugs like many of his friends had done. For someone who loved and respected her so much, it was difficult for Ruiz to take it all in and accept what was happening.
"From the middle of eighth grade to the beginning of 2010 I only had very brief encounters with my mother," Ruiz said. "She was in and out of rehab. It was very tough and I knew I couldn't help her. I feel like I dealt with it really well though."
Part of the reason Ruiz coped with the situation well was due to his surroundings. After making his way through public school, Ruiz went on to the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Conn. It was there Ruiz surrounded himself with good people and began to absorb wrestling
"After I went to public school I went to the Salisbury School for four years," Ruiz said. "It helped me out a bunch because it was a small school and I just became friends with the right people."
"I had the same roommate for three years and he and his family took me in," Ruiz said. "My roommate helped me out a lot. But I was able to help him out a lot too. I got him to start wrestling and he eventually began to lose weight and he became an athlete, which he wasn't before."
At Salisbury, his high school wrestling coach Paul Myers and his club coach John Knapp pressed Ruiz and made sure he didn't fall behind. Both Myers and Knapp "believed in [Ruiz] and never" gave him the chance to fail. It was here wrestling began to develop and play a prominent role in Ruiz's life.
At F&M, Ruiz hopes to take his broad range of experiences and draw on them so as to positively impact the community around him. He hopes to impact F&M and the broader community in ways other than through his wrestling experiences.
"I want to get to do work in the community in Lancaster," Ruiz said. "I've given a few talks about making the right choices. Hopefully I can inspire people. I grew up at one point without couches and we moved around because my mother was into drugs. From nothing to something."
From a wrestling standpoint, Ruiz hopes to capitalize on his relatively young passion and reach his full potential. Given what he has overcome to get to this point, achieving his goals and reaching his dreams on the mat seem almost simplistic and unchallenging.
"I want to be a part of the change on the wrestling team," Ruiz said. "I want to be a part of bringing the team to a new level. I want to be a national champion. I'm physically capable, but I just need to grow a little bit stronger mentally."
Off the mat, Ruiz is a fascinating character. In some ways, he's a bit contradictory. How many wrestlers aspire to write Spanish poetry in their spare time? He loves inventions. Ruiz is an inquisitive kid, one who loves challenging the norm and exploring different ways to approach the world. Abiding by the social norms is not part of who Ruiz is.
"I like to play a little squash when I get a break," Ruiz said when asked what he does for fun. "I love to meet with my professors and talk about stuff that we don't necessarily talk about in class, about the world in general. I want to be a geology major."
"I like to write Spanish poetry," Ruiz continued. "I'm fluent in Spanish. It's easy for me, it just flows. I also love inventions. Anything that makes stuff easier. Anything that's causing a problem is something I want to fix."
Ruiz is quite possibly the most fascinating character you will meet. His interests, his desires, and his past make him special. He is the epitome of well rounded and he is the ideal candidate an institution like F&M looks for. His personality is diverse and it only serves to strengthen him.
Combined with several other fascinating and talented individuals, Ruiz is one of the freshmen that ensure the Diplomats have a bright future. Both on the mat and off it, Ruiz is an ambassador for what people look for. It's hard not to like him and, just by speaking to him, it's easy to have an easier appreciation for life and what it means to live it to the fullest.