Rudy’s rewarding resilience

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One night I couldn’t sleep, flipping the television channels at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. Imagine my surprise when one of the best movies to ever hit the small screen was just beginning.

And just like that, I was reeled into watching the 1993 sports flick, “Rudy” — based on a true story — all over again. If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to do so with its underlying mantra of persistence and following one’s true passion.

Rudy — whose real name is Daniel Ruettinger — is an inspirational fellow who refused to give up despite all odds. Rudy stands only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and at the time, weighed only a mere 165 pounds. Undeterred by his extremely small stature, he would tell anyone who’d listen that he’d one day play collegiate football at Notre Dame.

Born the third of 14 children in a hard-working, Catholic family, Rudy never lost sight of his dream. His dad — a stern, dedicated steel factory foreman in Joliet, Illinois — would always snicker by the thought of his little son actually making it to the football lineup.

Rudy seemed unfazed by the lackadaisical opinions of his parents, his siblings, his girlfriend and his friends. After his college application to the University of Notre Dame was rejected repeatedly, the small fellow seemed undaunted.

Rudy studied, and was even tutored, at the neighboring Holy Cross College for two challenging years. There, he began flourishing after having being diagnosed, and treated for, dyslexia. It was during the fall of 1974 that the sports enthusiast would apply for, and be granted, admission to his much-beloved Notre Dame!

In addition, Rudy served as an assistant to the collegiate groundskeeper — devoting many hours to caring for and maintaining the college football field. With no place to stay, Rudy would sneak into the facilities director’s office each night — sleeping on a makeshift cot inside.

The young man trained diligently in pursuit of becoming a Fighting Irish athlete.

Despite his being rejected numerous times by the university coaches, Rudy didn’t allow that to deter him. He voluntarily served as a tackling dummy — granting players an opportunity to tackle, push, shove, pound and nearly knock him out — during athletic practices. Still, regardless of his minute posture, Rudy reveled in every minute he spent with the players. The heavyweight athletes could beat him physically and repetitiously, but their strikes could not hold back his enthusiasm for the game.

The coaches and athletes, alike, recognized his passion and zest for life. To nearly everyone’s amazement, Rudy actually made the Fighting Irish football team.

Moreover, Coach Parseghian made a pledge to Rudy, that he would allow him to dress for, and play in, his last senior home game. Rudy’s lifelong ambition was for his family and friends to cheer for him from the bleachers as he played football. That dream, however, quickly dissipated when Coach Parseghian stepped down as head coach, being replaced by Coach Dan Devine. Rudy’s greatest fear was Coach Devine reneging on the former coach’s personal vow, terrified his dreams of playing could be dashed entirely.

That would not be the case. In the movie, Rudy’s Fighting Irish teammates rallied behind him — going before Coach Devine, offering up their jerseys in exchange for Rudy being able to suit up and play. During that last fateful game, time advanced with Notre Dame holding a 17-to-3 lead over the Georgia Tech challengers. All of the senior football players — with the exception of Rudy — had been granted time on the field.

While all of his family, friends and lead groundskeeper watched from the sidelines, teammates, spectators and assistant coaches began chanting, “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!” The chant was heard throughout the stadium. In the last few minutes of the game, Coach Devine upheld the former coach’s vow — allowing Rudy enough time on the field to complete two defense snaps and an actual sack against a Georgia Tech quarterback.

Defying all odds, Rudy became the very first Notre Dame player to be lifted, and carried across the Fighting Irishes’ field by his fellow athletes.

Is there any wonder why this heartfelt, sports biographical movie has been named as one of the best 25 motivational flicks of all time, and ranked No. 4 among respondents on ESPN.com? When you or someone you know has simply lost all faith and hope, recall how Daniel Ruettinger’s never-wavering determination and resilience paid off in such a rewarding way!

Kim Lambert is a former reporter with The Daily Record and former editor of The Angier Independent.

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