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The Courage to Succeed
Examiner - May 2009
Olympian Wants Longevity Record
By Rusty Graham
Don’t tell Ruben Gonzalez he can’t
do something. He’ll
just prove you wrong.
The 46-year-old luger from Katy, TX talked
his way into
luge training when he was 21. Most lugers start the
as children and are highly experienced by their
talked his way into his current comeback, where if
he makes the cut later
this year, he’ll become the first
athlete to compete in Winter Olympics
in four decades.
That would be the 1988 Calgary games, 1992
Albertville, 2002 Salt Lake City and 2010 Vancouver.
Not bad for a
guy who’s never placed better than 31st
in those competitions.
Wait a minute — did you say luger? From Katy, TX? Isn’t
luge the sport
where they lay on their backs and hurl
themselves feet-first down an icy
Yep. And yep.
So how does someone from topographically
— and climatically
— challenged Houston even compete in an
requires elevation changes? And ice?
Gonzalez took a break from a
recent training session at
the Memorial City Mall ice rink to explain.
Seems the then 21-year-old Gonzalez was watching
the 1984 Sarajevo
games when he decided that if the
diminutive Scott Hamilton could win a
then so could he.
Sounds great, but there was a not
so insignificant problem
— he didn’t have a sport.
up a non-athlete, the last one picked (for games),”
It was off to the library in those pre-Internet days
Olympic sports. He ruled out Summer Olympic
events and began looking at
the winter sports.
It came down to bobsled, luge and ski-jumping.
Bobsledding is a team event, and ski jumping is, well,
And so it was luge. A boy who grew up in Houston,
who graduated from
Fort Bend Dulles and Houston
Baptist University, wanted to become an
He wrote “Sports Illustrated” for advice, and learned
that training in this country takes place at Lake Placid,
N.Y., site of
the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Gonzalez called Lake Placid. Trainers there
him no way a 21-year-old could make it in a sport where top
athletes have been training since they were eight- or nine-years old.
But the one they called “Bulldog”
persevered and got
into a training program. For beginners. On wheels.
Lugers can reach speeds of up to 95 miles per hour and
pull up to 6
g’s on turns — all while lying on their
backs, using their bodies and
feet to steer and
peripheral vision to stay on course.
are common. When he got to start training
on a sled, Gonzalez was
crashing four out of every five
times. “It was brutal,” he said.
But by the third year the lights had come on.
He was making way more
successful runs than crashes,
something like 100 to one, and he was off
to the real races
and the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
Olympics later, the middle-aged Gonzalez
wants a spot in an event
dominated by younger
athletes, many half his age.
He’s taking a
break from a successful career as
a motivational speaker and author to
train for the upcoming
qualifying races and ultimately, he hopes,
Only 40 lugers make it to the Olympics.
trains with the United States team,
he’ll compete for Argentina if he
That’s a way of getting more countries involved in the
Olympic luging, which is always in danger of being eliminated
event, he said.
It’s not that much of a stretch. The Argentine-born
moved with his family to Houston when he was
six after his
father, a chemical engineer, was transferred here.
acknowledges that 40 spots isn’t many,
and that Germany, Russia, Italy,
the Nordic and Alpine countries
will get many of those. He puts his
chances at 50-50 — even odds.
So he trains, working on his
flexibility, lifting weights to
strengthen his lower back. On the ice at
City, he works on propelling himself with his fingertips,
using gloves with small spikes for traction.
And so the Bulldog