Olympian Makes a
Big Impact in Students' Lives
The former luge competitor told local high schoolers
and accomplishing them.
Olympian Gonzalez: An Ordinary
Kid with an
Summit Daily Dews
May 19, 2006
Perseverance. That's the key to success, three-time
Olympian Ruben Gonzalez told an audience of more than 60 Thursday night at
the Summit High School library.
"Success requires massive action for a long, long time," he said. "My
strength is not athleticism, it's perseverance."
A former luge competitor, Gonzalez was the first speaker in a series
co-sponsored by the town of Frisco and Summit County's Integration Plan, a
program administered by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC).
Several members of the diverse audience used headsets to hear a simultaneous
Spanish translation, as the energetic native of Argentina described
challenges he faced in childhood and his path to the Olympics in the risky
sport of luge.
Arriving in New York City at age 6, when his father's employer transferred
the family, Gonzalez encountered difficulties right away.
"I'm the only kid in my class that didn't speak English," he said. "It was
tough. I got picked on all the time." In his isolation, Gonzalez turned to
books, especially biographies of extraordinary people.
"The people I read about, they were willing to take action," he told the
crowd. "They weren't born great. It was the struggle that made them great.
The main quality they had was perseverance."
In fifth grade, he made a decision that would affect the rest of his life.
"If perseverance is the key," he said to himself, "Ruben doesn't quit
anything. I ain't quittin' no more."
As a college student, Gonzalez never quit his soccer team, even though he
warmed the bench for three years. At age 21, with little history of athletic
success, he saw the Sarajevo Olympics on television and decided he was going
to be an Olympian.
"It's a done deal," he said at the time. "Now I just gotta find a sport."
Although he was living in Houston, Gonzalez chose the winter event of luge
because he thought his chances of success were best in the little-known
"When I picked the luge, I hadn't even seen it on TV," he said. "If I'd seen
it, I probably wouldn't have picked it."
He just wanted to be in the Olympics, he added. He didn't care in what
Against all odds, and despite numerous broken bones, Gonzalez learned to
luge at the Lake Placid Olympic training center and walked into the opening
ceremonies in Calgary Olympics just four years later.
The advantage of luge is that most people quit, he said. For the first two
years of training, most lugers crash four out of five runs. It takes
persistence and focus to attain any competence at all in the high-speed
sport. Gonzalez said he simply outlasted most of his teammates.
"If you go in with the attitude that 'I'm not quitting,' 90 percent of the
people will quit out from under you," he said.
Finishing "in the middle of the pack" in Calgary, Gonzalez went on to
compete in the Olympics twice more, the last time in Salt Lake City at the
age of 39.
"Almost every day, somebody asked me it I was a coach," he said of his final
Now a professional motivational speaker and author, the Texas resident
emphasized the importance of a strong support network.
"Who you hang around with is 90 percent of your success," he said.
Gonzalez' enthusiasm was obvious when he summarized the message in his
"I was an ordinary kid with extraordinary dreams," he said.
After the talk, 14-year-old Tanezi Gutierrez, who arrived in the U.S. at age
8, said she related to the speaker.
"When I was little, I was in the same situation," she said. "I didn't speak
English and I didn't have any friends."
Wildernest resident Lisa Henry said Gonzalez validated some of the
challenges she's faced in her life.
"You've got to follow your own path," she said. "I've been shedding certain
people because they're not supporting me. It's not easy."
When asked what advice he would give to Hispanic young people in the U.S.,
Gonzalez reiterated his central theme.
"Pursue your dream, knowing that you have what it takes to realize it," he
said. "Do whatever your heart tells you to do, whether it's getting a Ph.D.
or playing sports."
His final suggestion was based on his own experience as an immigrant finding
his way in a new country.
"I encourage them to learn English, because that will open up so many
opportunities," he said.
Gonzalez repeated his presentation Friday morning to an all-school assembly
at Summit Middle School. The next speaker in the series is planned for fall,
when school is back in session.