Laurier Grads Soar is a multi-part series that returns for it’s third installment during the 2018-19 season. The segment features former Wilfrid Laurier University athletes and student-leaders in the Athletics and Recreation Department, and the success they have enjoyed since leaving Laurier. Written by award-winning journalist David Grossman, different features will be released throughout the year that will emphasize the role Athletics and Recreation played in helping them achieve success.
— This article first appeared on laurierathletics.com. The original posting of the article can be found HERE —
Donnie Ruiz: CFL alum, artist, personal trainer, and award-winning body builder
From an early age, Donnie Ruiz decided to make football his primary focus.
Ruiz would prove his talent meant more than just muttering a bunch of words, and went on to fulfill a dream by becoming a seven-year pro in the Canadian Football League.
But, that wasn’t all that made him a success.
Filled with optimism and determination, Ruiz had a fascination with art and a thirst for knowledge. When given the proper utensils and opportunities, Ruiz would go to work as his productive and inventive mind took over with an assortment of art designs.
Ruiz had shown early signs of creativity, and being artistically inclined, used wax pastels and pencil to sketch an impressive picture of his mother. He did that at the age of three.
A school teacher spotted his technique, ability and the flair to put thought to art and, well, many years later Ruiz, after studying graphic art and technical design, would graduate from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Degree in Fine Arts and Art History.
Raised in Hamilton, Ruiz went to Orchard Park Secondary in nearby Stoney Creek, where he was a Most Valuable Player in several sports. In his graduating year, Ruiz was chosen Athlete of the Year after having set several school records in football.
Hidden in his dominance of sport, Ruiz won a scholarship for outstanding studio artwork, and contemplated combining a career of pro football, architecture and teaching art.
A top athlete and, like many teens mesmerized by college sports in the United States and playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Ruiz thought it might also get him in the spotlight of coaches, and a step closer to the National Football League.
“I was 18 years old then, fresh off doing so well in high school and I was thinking NFL,” recalled Ruiz. “It was all football back then and decided it would be great to play (in the United States) and study graphic art and technical design.”
Ruiz chose Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn., located some 370 kilometres south of Winnipeg. On a good day, it was a 16-hour car drive from his home in suburban Hamilton. It took Ruiz two years at the northwest Minnesota school to realize that the perks were missing and it was time to leave.
“It didn’t turn out to be the way I had thought – not a good choice for me,” he said. “I had friends at Laurier, knew the school had a prestigious reputation in academics and a superb Fine Arts program. Football was big there, too, and I was much closer to home. There was only one place to be – Laurier.”
Inspired and motivated with the move to Laurier, it didn’t take long for Ruiz to realize that returning to Canada was his best move.
A tailback turned defensive back, Ruiz played for Laurier in two Yates Cup games, but never got a chance to hoist the championship trophy. However, he did put together some awesome football accomplishments: Laurier MVP, three-time Ontario University Athletics all-star and three-time all-Canadian. Knocking on the door of the CFL was next.
Plagued by a broken collarbone, and later in his career, a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Ruiz did play with Winnipeg, Ottawa and Saskatchewan between 2001 and 2006. Contemplating a future in teaching art in high school, and even coaching football, Ruiz still had a tough time adjusting after his pro sports playing career had come to an end.
“The best thing that happened to me was going to Laurier because being there, I had to be focused, work hard and it was a place where I learned to grow up, take on responsibilities, leadership roles, develop relationships and focus on a career,” he said.
“To get accepted at Laurier, finish in the top of my class, get a scholarship – these were big things for me. Then, to graduate was so special. Others didn’t think I could do it. To be honest, there were times when I didn’t know if I could do it. Even more meaningful, I became the first one in my family to graduate from a university.”
Ruiz remembers another time on the podium. This time, back in 2007, with a winning personality and charismatic, he was inducted to the Laurier Athletic Hall of Fame.
Believing that a strong body is a strong mind, Ruiz has become a mentor, motivator, certified coach and body builder. For the past 12 years, he has run a personal training business in the Ottawa area that caters to junior and pro athletes and company executives.
Involved in fitness modeling, taekwondo and kickboxing, Ruiz is a past winner of both the Canadian Muscle Model and the International Drug Free Association Body Building championships.
“It’s all about belief, commitment, facing challenges and coming away knowing you made the right choice when it counted,” he said. “I’ll never forget the positive impact that Laurier has had on me.”
David Grossman is a multi award-winning communicator and storyteller with a distinguished career in Broadcasting, Journalism and Public Relations in Sport and Government Relations