Most people became aware of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger because of the film “Rudy,” which is based on his struggles of getting into Notre Dame and onto its football team. The majority of those who have seen the movie are blown away by how he persevered to achieve his dream. Ruettiger’s autobiography, “Rudy: My Story,” is no less inspirational.
The book deals with his life from its beginning up to the end of 2011. His parents, who lived in Joliet, Ill., had 12 children, and Ruettiger was the oldest. Because there were so many kids, his father had to work three jobs to make ends meet. Ruettiger’s mother found ways to stretch every dollar. To keep things straight for their family and friends, all the kids were nicknamed “Rudy.”
Throughout Ruettiger’s early years in school, he was told by many teachers that he would never be a college-bound student and would have to settle for a job at one of the local plants. Since his grades were low, he grew to accept that evaluation. He seldom, if ever, received any positive reinforcement until a counselor told him that he could attend college — if he put his mind to it.
Ruettiger also got some positive reinforcement from his football coach. Then, he got a chance to visit Notre Dame and meet Ara Parsegehian in the football locker room. He told the coach that one day he’d be attending Notre Dame and playing for the Fighting Irish. Parsegehian told him it wouldn’t be that day.
When Ruettiger graduated from high school, he joined the Navy and traveled the world. After the service, he moved back home and started working in the plants around Joliet. He had a close friend who encouraged him to live his dreams. When his friend was killed in an accident, Ruettiger went and talked to his high school counselor. That was when he discovered the government would pay for most of his tuition if he wanted to go to college — and he did.
The counselor managed to get him into Holy Cross Community College, which was just across the lake from Notre Dame. The dormitory Ruettiger stayed in, however, was on Notre Dame’s campus. Once he was in college, Ruettiger began to meet a series of people who would help him to achieve his dream of getting into Notre Dame. Unlike the movie, there were many people who helped Ruettiger.
Eventually Ruettiger made it into Notre Dame, and the rest is history, if you’ve seen the movie, but the book takes you beyond Notre Dame, showing you what happened to Ruettiger after he was carried off the football field by his teammates.
Ruettiger became a car salesman, excelling at the job. Eventually, he began to dream of turning the Notre Dame episode into a movie. It took more than 10 years, but he did it. The right people came into his life, as did some unsavory characters who later took advantage of him once the film was in production, costing him much financially.
After the movie was released, Ruettiger, who now lives in Las Vegas, became an overnight sensation. But he was broke and wondered how he was going to make a living. He became a motivational speaker who traveled around the country, talking to high schools, universities, corporations and sports teams. He eventually set up a charity for children who wanted to make their own dreams come true.
Living out of a suitcase 300 days of the year can become rather grueling, especially when you have a wife and children at home. This was what Ruettiger faced in his later years. He decided to find a way to make enough money so he could spend more time at home. This led to some bad choices. It was also terrible timing for his real estate ventures. What Ruettiger learned from all of this is that he’d taken his eyes off the ball and had paid a horrible price. Everything he’d struggled so hard to achieve was lost.
Ruettiger discovered that though a person may bring his dreams alive, it doesn’t mean there won’t be highs and lows. He also learned it was vital he start over again and applied everything he had to achieving a new goal — helping young people become happy and successful.
These highlights are only the tip of the iceberg concerning the many things that occurred throughout Ruettiger’s amazing life. None of what Ruettiger achieved came easy. He had to work hard, which was something his father had taught him. Ruettiger also needed motivation, determination, patience, and the ability to recognize a window of opportunity.
Ruettiger, as reflected in his story, definitely proved it was possible for a boy from the opposite side of the tracks to make his dreams come true. He never gave up. And now his story serves as the inspiration for others who want to make their dreams come true — and are willing to do the work.
Wayne C. Rogers is the author of the horror novellas “The Encounter” and “The Tunnels,” both of which can be purchased at Amazon’s Kindle Store for 99 cents each.