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Ruben Gonzalez

the Luge Man

Three Time Olympian        Peak-Performance Expert         Motivational  Speaker

 

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Memorial 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
sport as children and are highly experienced by their
early 20s.

Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez

He 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 track?

Yep. And yep.

Olympic Motivational speaker Ruben Gonzalez

So how does someone from topographically — and climatically
— challenged Houston even compete in an
event that 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 gold medal,
then so could he.

Sounds great, but there was a not so insignificant problem
 — he didn’t have a sport.

Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez

“I grew up a non-athlete, the last one picked (for games),”
said Gonzalez.

It was off to the library in those pre-Internet days
to research 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,
ski jumping.

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 Olympic luger.
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.

Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez

Gonzalez called Lake Placid. Trainers there told
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.

Accidents 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.

Now three 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, Vancouver.

Only 40 lugers make it to the Olympics.
While Gonzalez trains with the United States team,
he’ll compete for Argentina if he qualifies.

That’s a way of getting more countries involved in the
Olympic luging, which is always in danger of being eliminated
as an event, he said.

It’s not that much of a stretch. The Argentine-born Gonzalez
moved with his family to Houston when he was
six after his father, a chemical engineer, was transferred here.

Still, Gonzalez 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 Memorial
City, he works on propelling himself with his fingertips,
using gloves with small spikes for traction.

Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez

And so the Bulldog perseveres.

 

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Olympic Motivational Speaker

Ruben Gonzalez

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