"In sailing there's a disproportionate split between mental and physical. You can think your way out of and into a lot of problems. It's like a chess game without a board."
— John Ruf
John Ruf Wins Bronze in Qingdao
With the top seven racers in contention for a medal in the 2.4mR fleet, two fourth place finishes on the final day of racing assured a bronze medal for first-time Olympian John Ruf. Finishing 10th at the 2008 Disabled Sailing World Championship motivated John to raise his game and work incredibly hard to increase his speed. "Since then, he has jumped to the forefront and onto the leader board," said head Paralympic coach, Betsy Alison, "It's a fantastic achievement."
John was your average club racer who loved nothing more than being out on his boat racing against friends. He won a few and lost a few, but at the end of the day, heading back to the club and sharing tall tales about the racing was always the best part. But John's sailing focus changed dramatically as he became determined to go for a bigger target—an Olympic medal.
John's ambition of competing in the Olympics was big, but with serious training and old-fashioned hard work this goal was within reach. He had a coach and trained hard, but like most of us, there were times when it was difficult to dig deep for the motivation to keep going. John Ruf had to dig much deeper than most because even the simplest tasks present enormous challenges for him. Did we mention he is a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair?
Tacks on a Header
When John was sailing E-Scows on Pewaukee Lake, he never considered the Olympics because racing at the club level was plenty
satisfying. But after he became wheelchair-bound, he knew he would never race his E-Scow again.
"I was reading Sailing World one day and came across a description of a 2.4 Metre. In the same issue I read an article about disabled sailing and learned the 2.4 would be a class in the Paralympic Games. The thought that I could get the same medal as an Olympic Finn sailor was intriguing. There might be a ramp to the podium but the road to it is exactly the same," said John.
This idea slowly sunk in and stuck. John turned a life-altering event that could have defeated him into an opportunity to excel in a sport he loves.
The 2.4 Metre is a scaled-down version of a much larger racing yacht. The beauty of this almost model-sized boat is the sailor sits deep in the hull with only his head above deck level, allowing the skipper to control everything with his hands from a sitting position—the perfect solution for John. Another plus is that
although the 2.4 was selected as the Olympic class for disabled sailors, regattas are often run with abled and disabled sailors competing together equally on the same racecourse.
Freedom and Friendships
What John likes best about his 2.4 Metre is that when he's out on the water he never thinks about his disabilities and the daily struggles that go with them.
"I have caught myself after a race realizing I never once thought about the fact that I wasn't in my wheelchair. I'm not hanging out on a trapeze, I'm not competing in a 49er, but in terms of sailing my 2.4 Metre, my wheelchair isn't getting in the way like it does in everything else. There aren't many other things I do that give me that same feeling."
John says one of the most important things he's gained from sailing are the friendships he's made. "As I look at it, all the friendships I have grew out of sailing. They're more than just 'sailing' friendships because that's not the only thing we talk about. I feel very fortunate to have met these people. They are
very important to me.
A Parade and Party
When John returned from Qingdao with his bronze, he was greeted with a parade and a huge party at the Pewaukee Lake Yacht Club.
We're so proud of our home-town sailor and look forward to listening to his stories for years to come. And isn't that one of the best parts of sailing? Sharing experiences with the gang over a beer and having great stories to tell your close friends?