Ruf, a bronze medalist in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing,
will compete in the U.S. Disabled Sailing Championship this
month on Lake Michigan.
Milwaukee Community Sailing Center hosts the U.S. Disabled Sailing
Championship Sept. 5-8, athletes from across the country will be in
the city to compete. One of the toughest sailors to beat will be John
Ruf of Pewaukee, who first launched his own boat on Pewaukee Lake at
the age of 9.
Disabled Sailing Championship is the biggest event in disabled
sailing," Ruf says. "Iíve actually never sailed my own
boat in it, only crewed for a friend. So Iím looking forward to
having a chance to sail in that regatta. It brings out the best
Ruf, now 45,
represents his familyís fifth generation of sailors. He says he
learned the sport from his mother and grandfather. "We had a
16-foot boat that kids sail, and I sailed that ítil I was 15,"
Ruf says he was
born with a tumor on his spine and, as a child, had surgery at the
Mayo Clinic followed by radiation therapy at Childrenís Hospital of
Wisconsin. "I spent a fair amount of time at Childrenís and had
multiple back surgeries," he says.
In 1998 Ruf was
in a car accident that necessitated a surgery in 1999. As a result, he
now uses a wheelchair. He thought his competitive sailing career might
be over, until he heard about a one-person keelboat that would be a
class for sailors with disabilities in the Paralympic Games.
had a crew, and didnít sail by myself until 2000," Ruf says.
"It is a huge, huge difference sailing with a crew vs. sailing by
yourself ó youíre the only person whoís pulling the lines and
deciding how youíre going to sail the course."
training and competing in trials, Ruf took the bronze medal in the
2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. "Besides learning how to sail
by myself, the 2.4-meter (keelboat) took some getting used to. Itís
the wettest boat Iíve ever sailed in my life. Itís like being in
the bathtub with the shower on," Ruf says.
Ruf went on to
win the 2009 Open World Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., which
attracts both able-bodied sailors and athletes living with a
disability from all over the world. In 2010 he won the U.S. Nationals,
also an open competition.
sailing has taken Ruf all over the world, from sites along the U.S.
East Coast to France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and England.
One thing he
hasnít yet done, he says, "is enough just cruising around. Itís
great just to be out on the water. Thereís something about sailing
thatís incredibly freeing for me. Thereís pretty much no other
place where Iíve experienced that sort of serenity and solitude that
you get when youíre sailing by yourself."