Coming up bright and early this week is the latest “Summer Series” Greco-Roman camp, this time at the Utah Valley Regional Training Center in Orem, UT. Training officially begins on Monday, August 24 and then wraps up on Friday, August 29. The Senior roster is a rather massive one, with numerous World and National Team members set to practice together in the largest gathering since the winter. For those interested in perusing the list, it is available right here.
New York Athletic Club coach Herb House — the man responsible for organizing the camp series — will again be among the coaches. Both MWC’s Zac Dominguez and 2006 World Champion Joe Warren (60 kg, NYAC) will reportedly help out, as well.
But one former athlete who is from the area and will be coaching this week is drawing even more attention: ’05 World bronze Justin Ruiz.
Ruiz — whose run to bronze at Budpest ’05 was the subject of an oral history released right before the pandemic hit — remains a popular figure within the United States Greco community due to a) his impressive career on the mat, and b) the manner in which he conducted himself and treated others off of it. People remember the full picture, not just the gutwrenches and bodylocks. Ruiz is a highly-respected steward of our sport for myriad reasons, which is why some have expressed a desire for his involvement as a coach on the Senior level.
For now, that will have to wait. Ruiz enjoys a successful career in the mortgage industry and is a married father of five daughters. But this week in Utah is at least a taste of what he might have to offer — and the best part is he will have several of the nation’s top upper-weights under his care.
5PM: Behind your back, literally behind your back, some of us have talked about you and it’s like, Wouldn’t it be great if Justin was a coach?
Justin Ruiz: (Laughs) I think it would be a lot of fun. I am pretty excited about it, too. Herb reached out and was like, Hey, you want to come out and help at this camp? So yeah, I’m excited. I am glad that we can do something here in the state of Utah. People can come out and check out the state a little bit. It’s going to be good.
5PM: When was the last time you worked with Senior athletes?
Ruiz: I was working a little bit with Tate Orndorff before the U23 Worlds. I helped him out a little bit, but that has been the last time I have worked with anyone doing a whole lot of Greco. I’ve taught wrestling at some MMA gyms, but other than that, I haven’t been really involved with a whole lot of wrestling, other than people asking for me to teach their kid a private lesson or something like that. Then, Tate reached out when he was getting ready for Greco. Taylor LaMont, I helped him out a little back in the day, but it has been a while since I’ve been involved in any real Greco practices.
5PM: A few of our top upper-weights will be in Utah. Joe Rau; if you want to count Alan Vera as a US guy locked in, then him, too. And of course, there will be Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock), who is and has been one of our highest-profile athletes the last few years and occupies the weight you’d be at if you were still competing. Have you watched enough of him to where you have some ideas of what you’d want to impart? Or are you just looking to observe and then offer up notes as you see fit?
Ruiz: I think it is mostly going to be observing. I’m excited to go in and work with whoever wants my help. That’s one of the things: I’m not one of their full-time coaches, so I’m happy to just kind of step in and help where people feel like I can help — but I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes. I feel like that there are definitely things of value that I can share with individual wrestlers, and the team as a whole. Things that can help them on their journey. So, I’m looking forward to it, but I don’t really have any expectations other than that I’m excited that I get to go and help out at some Greco practices.
5PM: There have been a couple of camps thus far. There was one at Ivan’s, one at Dominguez’s, and now this one coming up at Utah Valley. Given that Utah never really locked down the way most other states have or had, are you surprised at all that this whole shutdown of wrestling has lasted this long?
Ruiz: Yeah, I think the whole situation is kind of insane. I mean, I know that there are high-risk individuals but it looks like the majority stay the same. If you are a healthy individual, you’re probably at a low risk for having any serious problems or after-effects if you catch it and get sick. It’s unfortunate anytime someone gets sick or dies; but I’m just looking at it like, I don’t know how long they can keep the economy shut down because people in general don’t have that many reserves where they are going to be able to support themselves. And I think the longer this goes on, there are going to be more lasting effects than the virus itself has caused.
I mean, one thing that really got me is that I saw this NPR article talking about how the majority of people who died already had terminal diagnoses. So with a lot of the deaths, there was nothing to be done, anyway. A terminal diagnosis is a terminal diagnosis. Just the fact that they contracted the virus in that path is, again, unfortunate, but I think people who are high-risk should probably take care of themselves. Yeah, I think it’s crazy that it has gone on this long, and I think that other places should open up, as well. I’m sending my kids to in-person school. I don’t know, I feel like it’s just kind of crazy — especially with wrestling. People put their whole lives into training and preparing and I just think it’s kind of silly. They are keeping people from doing what they want to do.
That’s my take on it. I roll jiu-jitsu three times a week. I’m definitely careful around people who are high risk or want me to be careful around them. Other than that, I think it is insane that there have been such massive shut downs and that they continue. That’s the thing, Utah has been really good about it. We still have a pretty good economy overall because we’ve kept a lot of things open. But then I look at other states and I’m like, Man, I don’t know how much longer this can go on.
5PM: Depending on what happens in the future and if everything matches up, would you like to be more involved with Senior coaching at some point?
Justin Ruiz: Yeah, I mean, at some point I would like to be involved more. With just how young my kids are right now, that makes it tough. But I’ve talked to my wife about possibly volunteering for some of the tours or making trips out to Colorado Springs, that type of thing, on a limited capacity. When I’m older, if my kids are gone, I would definitely be interested. But again, I’ll probably be old by that point and I don’t know if my body will be able to contribute much in terms of coaching (laughs). Because, sometimes you have to get in there and get your hands dirty with the guys and everything.
So yeah, I would like to be involved, but with my daughters not being involved with the sport it is really hard to justify taking time away from them. I don’t know a better way to put it. I don’t want to spend time with a bunch of other people’s kids rather than spending time with my own. I get my little fixes in here and there, but right now, it’s just hard to squeeze in. But I’d love to be able to help out more if I can make it work along with everything else I’ve got going on.