ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
The cynics have had a field day criticizing the Olympic Games. When you mix in a little corruption with politics and greed, you have an easy target.
While the Olympics fall far short of the ideal, it’s good to remember what’s good about the Olympics.
Helping us better understand the Olympics is Ruth Wysocki, a world-class runner and former Olympic athlete with Hillsboro family ties.
Ruth currently teaches middle and high school girls physical education at Linfield School in Temecula, Calif. She coaches a middle school cross-country team. She also gives motivational speeches and still races occasionally.
Her personal heroes are her parents, Willis and Ethel Kleinsasser. She said they made it possible for her to chase her dreams and encouraged her to try anything she wanted. They also set an example for her in the way they live their lives-letting their actions show who they are and what they stand for.
Incidentally, her parents plan to be in Hillsboro next month for a 50th class reunion at Tabor College.
Ruth lives in Canyon Lake, Calif., with her husband, Tom, and their son, Michael.
You can find a bio on Ruth on the Web at http://www.usatf.org/athletes/bios/wysocki.shtml. It’s a little dated, but it has a nice opening line, “There is the history of women’s track in America, and then there is the history of Ruth Wysocki’s career, which is a little longer.”
Joe: My sense is that the Olympics aren’t as magical as they were 20 years ago. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
Ruth: The Olympics are still an awesome event, but I don’t think it’s quite the same now. Professional athletes are now competing and there are so many major events to watch each year.
Even in my sport, there is now a World Championships every two years, so now three out of four years there is a major track championship. There isn’t as much of a sense of putting everything on the line only once every four years.
It is also a great showcase for sports that don’t get much attention in non-Olympic years.
I love the “up-close and personal” stories of the athletes. It is so inspiring to hear what they’ve been through and the things they have had to overcome.”
Joe: What are some things the average person probably doesn’t realize when it comes to qualifying and competing in the Olympics?
Ruth: To me it is still the ultimate sporting event. There is incredible pressure. You put it all on the line and have to be ready for the performance of a lifetime on the one day that matters. It is very stressful to have everything you have worked for in your career come down to one single event.
Joe: Which Olympic athletes really had it together in terms of competing at the absolute highest level, maintaining good balanced values and perspectives, and were enjoyable to be around?
Ruth: Joan Benoit Samuelson comes to mind immediately. She loved to run and was among the best, but it wasn’t the most important thing in her life.
Dwight Stones (a high jumper) raised a family, including a daughter born with heart problems and included them in everything he did.
The two men I admired most were Jim Ryun and Billy Mills. They are both men of incredible integrity who are still wonderful role models.
Joe: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?
Ruth: I think the biggest accomplishment was the 33 years that my career has lasted. I was able to be at the top of each segment, starting with age-group running, then high school, junior college, national level, international level, and now masters (40+).
Making the 1984 Olympic team was a great accomplishment, obviously. Not just making the team, but I had come back from a serious injury and had retired from the sport for the three years prior to that.
The masters records were also very satisfying. I ran personal best times for 5K, 8K and 10K after the age of 40 and was able to still compete on the elite, open level.
Overall I know that God blessed me with a talent to run and a desire to compete. I am so thankful to have found my gift at a young age and be able to maximize it.
I’m also thrilled that God has now presented me with many opportunities to share my story and experiences with others.