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Friday, May 1st, 2009
By William Kincaid
Don't ask, just chase your dream
The real Rudy speaks at Coldwater school
COLDWATER - Notre Dame alumni Daniel Ruettiger, whose struggles on the football team were captured in the 1993 movie "Rudy," recalls a time when his fifth-grade teacher ridiculed him.
He didn't know the fifth president of the U.S., an assignment made for the night when the Yankees battled the Red Sox for 14 innings.
"I didn't know and I didn't care," Ruettiger told a packed house at Coldwater school's Palace gymnasium on Thursday night, which included people who traveled from Illinois and Indiana.
What his teacher didn't understand was that in Ruettiger's house, Notre Dame, the New York Yankees and the Green Bay Packers were a religion.
"She didn't understand what inspired me," he said.
Years later when invited to the White House by the Clintons to watch his movie with their friends, Ruettiger finally knew who the fifth U.S. president was after seeing the portrait of James Monroe on one of the walls.
Find your inspiration, follow your dreams and never ask permission, Ruettiger urged the crowd, who assembled to listen to his speech as part of the middle school's Get REAL (Responsible Enough About Life) Week.
"Rudy, Rudy, Rudy," the crowd chanted, mimicking the cheer made during the movie when fans and players demanded his appearance in the Notre Dame and Georgia Tech game on Nov. 8, 1975.
Ruettiger, who came directly from Las Vegas to Coldwater, said he grew up in a large Italian, Catholic family with 13 brothers and sisters. His parents made a vow to never argue in front of the children. That was done after-hours in their bed.
"Why do you think there was 14 of you? Your father was the inspiration," Ruettiger said his mom would say.
His parents also were conscious about their children's self-confidence.
"My mother said it best - never embarrass someone in front of someone (else)," he said.
When reprimand was needed, his mother waited until that child was alone.
"Treat people right. Treat people properly," he said.
Throughout his early years, friends, teachers and other adults always tried to put him in his place, Ruettiger said. He said eventually he stopped asking for permission to follow his dreams and simply chased after them.
Despite having poor grades - and being third from the bottom of his class - Ruettiger enrolled at Notre Dame after proving himself at the nearby Holy Cross college.
There's always a secondary route of reaching your goal, Ruettiger told the crowd.
"If the ship doesn't go to you, go to the ship," he said. "You will find new ways to reinvent yourself. Write your story as you go through life without permission."
Ruettiger also expounded on the value of positive thinking and hard work.
"You got to work on yourself all the time. You got to work on your thoughts ... 'Yes I can, Yes I can,' " he said.
What many people don't know - and what wasn't included in the movie - was Ruettiger's time in the U.S. Navy before he ever went to Notre Dame. The little things of life - folding your underwear, shining your shoes and making your bed - are important, he said.
"I thought this was stupid ... until I went to boot camp," he said.
Being responsible paid off, as his efforts were recognized.
"Son, you're the leader of these dummies," Ruettiger said his boot camp supervisor said.
And from that came confidence, he said.
His hard work was awarded also when he made Notre Dame's scout team and eventually played in a game, where he sacked the opposing team's quarterback.
"It wasn't about a tackle. It was about a journey," he said.
Ruettiger recalled that brief moment when he finally got into the game.
"I ran so fast. God gives you that extra energy when you have focus," he said.
Ruettiger's own journey continues today as a motivational speaker.
"I thought the dream was over when they took me off the field," he said. "God had a lot more dreams for me."
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