Olympic Hopefuls: John Ruf Captures
Bronze in First Paralympics
by Thom Burns
Several mid-westerners made the herculean effort to go to the Olympic
Games and to win a sailing medal. John Ruf from Pewaukee, Wisconsin won
a bronze medal in the 2.4M one person keelboat at the 2008 Beijing
Paralympic Games. This was his first attempt at the Paralympics.
youth, Ruf learned to sail Xboats from his grandfather and mother and
then he moved to M-16 Scows and
E-Scows. He spent much of his childhood
shuttling between doctors and hospitals after a tumor was discovered on
his spine, but he still sailed. After a car accident, a wheelchair
became his mode of transport, but he jumped right back into sailing. He
discovered the 2.4M while flipping through a sailing magazine during
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.
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.
the road was tough. Finishing 10th at
the 2007 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." A month
later, John won the right to represent the U.S at the Paralympic Games.
the games, with the top seven racers in contention for a medal in the
2.4M fleet, two fourth place finishes on the final day of racing
assured a bronze medal for the first-time Olympian.
best about his 2.4M 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 2.4M,
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."
Burns publishes Northern Breezes and SailingBreezes.com Magazines.