Olympian Gonzalez: An ordinary kid with an extraordinary dream
FARMER’S KORNER – 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 sport. “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 sport.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 as a member of the Argentinean Olympic team.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 Olympics.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 story.”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.Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at email@example.com.
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