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Olympian inspires Dayton students

by Karel C. Ancona-Henry
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Olympian Ruben Gonzalez autographs Ryan Sawyer's shirt at Dayton Intermediate School on Thursday. Sawyer, 11, thought it was "pretty sick" to meet Gonzalez, a former Olympic luger who now works as an inspirational speaker traveling the country encouraging people to read and to follow their dreams.
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Students at Dayton Intermediate School welcomed three-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez to their school Thursday to kick off “Get Physical with Reading,” the theme for National Reading Week.

Gonzalez, who is now a motivational speaker, author and personality, based in Houston, Texas, also gave presentations at Yerington Intermediate and Silver Stage Middle schools during his tour which continued Friday.

Linda Flaherty, assistant principal at DIS, and Harriet Hasbrouck, Yerington Intermediate School principal, heard Gonzalez speak at a seminar they had attended and felt he would be “really good for our kids,” Flaherty said. The two, as well as SSMS Principal Rob Jacobsen, pooled their resources to get Gonzalez to town.

“It went very well, and the kids responded well,” Flaherty said. “I saw a kid in my office who said, ‘He really inspired me,’ and that’s what I like to hear.”

Gonzalez shared his story of perseverance during an hour-long, high-energy talk in which he touched on the role books had played in his life, the importance of having dreams and how to make them come true.

Born in Argentina, Gonzalez’s family moved to Queens, N.Y., when he was a small boy who spoke only Spanish and, because he was different and small for his size, was picked on by children and adults.

“When you tell people your dream, they do three things: They laugh at you, then they watch you, eventually they look up to you,” he said. “A good friend believes in you, supports you.”

Gonzalez became fluent in English, through reading. Eventually, his dad encouraged him to read biographies where “ordinary people like you and me made their dreams come true,” he said. “I realized that each of those people had a dream. No one was born great, they just didn’t give up their dream.”

Gonzalez takes his story around the world, describing with humor a kid with no athletic ability but who had dreams of going to the Olympics and overcame the odds to see that dream through.

At 21, Gonzalez found a sport that fit him, and called the luge school at Lake Placid, N.Y. The instructor laughed at him, saying students started learning when they were between 5 and 10 years old, when they were “indestructible and fearless.”

After a lengthy conversation, the coach said if Gonzalez would run for Argentina, he’d let him attend the school.

“It worked out, because luge was in danger of being cut as an Olympic event, not enough countries were participating,” he said. “I didn’t care who I ran for, as long as I could go to the Olympics.”

The first two years, Gonzalez said he crashed four out of five runs.

In the third year, that happened one in 100 runs. And every time, since he was, by luge standards, an old man, he was scared. But still he didn’t stop.

“You see, I just kept at it,” he told the students. “Nine out of 10 people quit everything: sales, medical school, businesses.

“As soon as you make a decision that quitting is not an option, people start to call you lucky. But it’s not luck, it’s belief and tenacity.”

Today, Gonzalez finds his inspiration through the e-mails and letters he receives from those who have heard him speak.

“People let me know how my speaking to them changed their lives and it is so humbling,” he said. “I just want to inspire them to walk through the fear and go for their dreams. And I am so tickled pink to do what I do.”

Gonzalez can be reached on the web at olympicmotivation.com or at http://www.thelugeman.com.