The Courage to succeed with Ruben Gonzalez
Welcome to Keep on Pushing Radio. Here’s your host, Devon Harris.
DH: Hi. Welcome to Keep on Pushing Radio. I am your host, Devon Harris and you know what we do here. We look to share ideas and insights with you that are going to help you live your best life. So, look man, if that is something that you’re interested in, you know you’re in the right place. So welcome.
Why would anyone in his right mind jump on a sled, stick his feet out and go down an icy shoot in excess of 80 miles an hour? Well, maybe our guest today can tell you exactly why. He, in fact, started luge at the age of 21, picked up the sport and started training for the Olympics and now today is a four-time Olympian. In fact, he is the first person, I think the only person to ever compete in four Olympic Games, each in a different decade. He has done mountain climbing and today he is a best- selling author and is a motivational speaker. I’m so pleased to welcome to Keep on Pushing Ruben ‘Lugeman’ Gonzalez. Welcome, Ruben. Thanks for coming on.
RG: How you doing Devon? It’s good to see you.
DH: Yes man. It’s great to have you on. Of course, look, we both competed in two Olympics together, ’88 and ’92, but we didn’t meet until much later. But you know, as well as I do that there is this rivalry between bobsledders and lugers. Why would anyone go at 80 miles per hour and stick their feet out in front of them? They must be losers. And so we call you guys losers, but I know you have an interesting story of a champion boxer who thought when you were telling him what you did, thought you said you were a loser. Tell us about that.
RG: Yes, you know this is even before my first Olympics. I was working out in my gym in Houston, and it’s just a little bitty gym and in walks Lou Duva who was…He’s a very famous Boxing Manager. He managed Evander Holyfield and lots of champions. So he walks in with about 10 boxers and Evander’s one of them, and this is right after he won the heavyweight title. You know Evander was a middleweight, no, a light heavyweight actually. He moved up. Everybody thought they were going to kill him and he made it. So all of a sudden, he’s famous and when he walks into that gym, everybody including myself started doing the same thing. We started whispering real loud. “That’s Evander Holyfield. What’s he doing here.” And nobody had the guts to go up to him and immediately to my right was the littlest one, he must have been decisive five foot tall. He didn’t look so intimidating. So this little guy, he gets on a stationary bike and I got next to him and I asked him, you know, “What do you do?” He says, “I box. What do you do?” I said, ” I am a luger.” And he said, “Don’t you ever call yourself a loser, man. You’re a winner.” He said it like that so loud that everybody got off their machines and they started looking at me and I came this close to just walking out that door and joining a different club.
DH: Yeah and I agree with him, man. Don’t ever call yourself a loser, man. You may be a luger, but you’re not loser.
RG: There you go.
DH: Well, I might be biased here, but I think more people know about bobsledding than they know about luge. So tell us about your sport, Ruben. What is it like to head down essentially a bobsled track with your feet sticking out in front of you?
RG: Now they’re starting to know a little bit more but I still tell a lot of people, “Hey, you guys ever seen Cool Runnings?” They go, “Yeah”. Okay, well, we go down that same track but we’re laying down a little bitty sled. We explain it using you guys, but it’s very counter-intuitive. I’ve had one of the doctors up at the… At the end of the Albertville Olympics, the doctor that was in charge of US, actually it must have been the Salt Lake City. But he said he was over bobsled, skeleton and luge and he said 70 percent of the injuries came from luge. It’s very counter-intuitive. Anything that would be normal to do, will get you into trouble. And so there’s a lot of the injuries and with the skeleton, I don’t know if you ever did the skeleton, which is just like headfirst luge.
DH: I like company. I’m going to stick to bobsledding. Thank you very much.
RG: The skeleton, if you look to, you just look into the curve and that drives your shoulder down and it drives. So you just do Stevie Wonder all the way down and you’re okay, right? Doesn’t mean that you are going the fast, but at least you get down.
My daughter when she was 16, I took her to Salt Lake City for a skeleton camp and they started them off on curve 12 and by the end of the week, they were going from ladies start, they were going over 60 miles per hour from ladies start. It would take us five months at least to get the ladies start for a brand new luge beginner, so I’m jealous.
DH: That’s amazing. So, I know you were born in Argentina, so really, you’re supposed to be like the next Diego Maradona or the precursor to Lionel Messi. Both were small guys, kind of like yourself, but instead, you end up competing in luge. You describe yourself as a guy who was not a great athlete but yet you are four time Olympian. How does that happen?
RG: You know, if I had stayed in Argentina… They are soccer maniacs over there. I still love… Soccer is still my favourite sport to play and to watch. But I’m slow, right?
DH: What position did you play by the way in soccer?
RG: Mostly, they put me at fullback, right fullback, as though you know, sweeper, I could…
DH: Not too much running, huh?
RG: No, that’s right. Wait for them. And they called me the animal because I just, you know, I was mean. Anyways, I’m slow, right so if you don’t have a quick speed in most sports, you’re dead. And even though I had the skills, I was still on the bench. We moved to the States when I was a little kid and caught the Olympic dream. It was a pipe dream all my life and when I was 21, I was watching the Sarajevo Games, the ’84 Games on T.V. and I saw Scott Hamilton, the figure skater, win the gold medal. He is tiny, he’s about a hundred pounds, 5’1′; he gave me hope. I thought if that little guy can do it, if he can win, I can at least play. I went to the library and looked at the list of sports and it took me five minutes after looking at the summer sports, that you’d have to be a super athlete. Forget this. And I started looking at the winter and my nickname in high school is bulldog because I was always very tenacious, very persevering. So I thought, “Hmm, I have to find a sport with a lot of broken bones, so maybe there’ll be a lot of quitters and then I just won’t quit. I’ll make it to the top on the attrition rate.
RG: What I tell people is find… You have to figure out what you’re good at, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, and then you go with your strength. So I picked the luge because it looked… I’ve never seen it on T.V. If I had, I’d probably would never have picked it. I had a little picture of a guy on a luge, I thought that looks pretty tough, that’s the one for me. I called Lake Placid and at first the guy wouldn’t let me in. He said, “You’re crazy, man, if you’re 21, you should have had 10 years’ experience.” He said, “No way.” I knew if I hung up, it’s all over. So hanging up is not an option and I just kept him on the phone and happened to tell him that I was born in Argentina and he got all excited. He said, “If you go for Argentina we’ll train you.” And I said, “Why? A minute ago, you weren’t going to train me at all.” “Because the sport of luge is in danger of being kicked out of the Olympics because we’re global enough. We don’t have enough countries. We’re recruiting.” I said, “Wow! That sounds good. Tell me more.” He said, “If you go for Argentina, you’ll train with us, you’ll travel with us, we have to compact10 years of training into two years. You’re going to get hurt a lot, okay?”
DH: Sounds like something right up your alley, huh?
RG: Yes, well, I thought, “Wow. This works right into my plan. This is sounding good. But he said, “The last two years you have to be competing against the best in the world because you have to qualify and back then the top 15 men made it. And so will you go for Argentina?” I told the man, “I’ll go for anybody. I’ll go for Pakistan. I don’t care. I don’t really care which sport, I just want to be an Olympian.”
DH: Yes, yes.
RG: So I went and it was brutal, but four years and a few broken bones later, I made it.
DH: It’s really interesting you know because when people meet me, even today, they laugh at the idea that a Jamaican can be bobsledding, right. And our story is so similar, it’s not funny because we did not know much about bobsledding in the beginning and it kind of fell in our laps and in no time, we’re at the Olympic Games, right? Well, you had a few more years to train than we did. But you’re from Argentina, you are living in Houston, which is as… I mean I went Houston a few years ago in the summer and I begun to question my Jamaicanness. It was so hot!
RG: Yes. Its brutal.
DH: Here it is a year from steamy Houston, discovering the sport out of nowhere and here you are at the Olympic games. It just, I think, reinforces in my mind, anyway, that we are all so much more alike than one would believe, right?
RG: Oh, yeah. Yeah and you know, when people laugh and say, “Well, how can Jamaicans be bobsledders? I tell them… Or how can somebody from Houston be a luger, right? I tell them, “Hey, the tracks will never come to me, right? I have to go to the track. You have to go pursue your dream. You can’t wait for it to fall in your lap, otherwise, you’re going to be 80 years old and you have all these regrets of, “You didn’t do anything with your life.
DH: I’ve heard you say, you know, that if your dream is big enough, the facts don’t count. And my saying to that is, “Never mind the facts because when you focus on the goals with a positive attitude, you get to create a brand new set of facts. That is far more powerful, far more dynamic, far more amazing and I think our story kind of demonstrate that.
RG: Yeah. I met a guy, actually not personally, but I’ve met him over the phone, and I know you know him you, Greg Sun.
DH: Hmm. I know ‘Trini’.
RG: Yeah, Trinidad, right? Well, this guy has a great story a great story. He went to school or he taught in Boisie and then helping out the younger Jamaican bobsledders and he got inspired and he started training, and the first time he went to Calgary, he thought he was going to die from the cold. But he got into it and now I think he’s been to a couple of Olympics in bobsledding
DH: I was about to say Trini, Greg’s son, went to college with Chris Stokes, who was on our team.
RG: Stokes, your driver, right?
DH: Well, he was Dudley’s brother.
RG: Oh, okay.
DH: Dudley’s brother. Yes, so I know Greg really well. So you spoke about in high school, on the soccer team, they called you what, the maniac?
RG: The guys called me ‘Animal.’
DH: ‘Animal, Animal.’ Yes and in high school, they called you the ‘Bull Dog.’ So where did that tenacity come from, Ruben? Is that from your upbringing or was that just something that was innately in you?
RG: You know, I was talking to Jack Canfield, the guy that wrote The Success Principles and he teaches a lot about self-esteem. And he was interviewing me for his book a few years ago. And it’s funny, I called his office right after I wrote my first book, I was just trying to get some testimonials from famous people, right? You put some big names in your book, you know, they might buy it. So I called Jack’s office and his secretary said, “He’s right here,” and he got on the phone and he said, “You got five minutes.” Well, we talked for an hour and a half.
We became friends and it during the time that he was writing The Success Principles. He said, “Man, l want to have your story in my book,” and he put me in three times and you know, I’ve gotten lots of bookings from that from people that read his book. But he is a big believer in self-esteem and he said, “Ruben, you must have an incredible self-esteem to do this what you did.” And I told him, “No, you know, Jack, I think it’s the opposite for me.” I always got picked on a lot in school when I was a little kid. When I moved to the United States, I didn’t fit in, right? I didn’t know the customs, I didn’t speak the language. I got picked on and I thought there was something wrong with me back then and I think it was that me trying to prove to myself that I was worthy.
So that was part of the driving force. My mom, she used to always say, “We are a family of dreamers, okay? Your great-grandparents, when things were really bad in Italy at the turn of the century, they left everything behind to go to Argentina. Then we left everything behind to come to the United States. We are dreamers. We’re willing to give up something good for the hope of something better in the future and that kind of percolated in my head and it’s just combination.
DH: Yes. No, that’s awesome. So you mentioned that you came here when you were young, I think at six. Of course, the world is very different today, to include here in the US, where there are segments of the population here that is not so immigrant friendly. They are not so friendly to Spanish speakers in general, Mexicans in particular. What was it like for you as a six-year-old moving? You mentioned that you got picked on a lot. What other dynamics existed then?
RG: Well, you know, when we came from Argentina, the idea was always to go back, right? There was a lot of terrorism and people disappearing and the economy was a mess and so, “Hey, we’re just going to come to the States for a few years and then we’re going to go back.” But it never got better, so it kept pushing the return date. So, in my mind… Our house is a little bit of Argentina and I’ve never really assimilated it too much because, you know. It finally wasn’t almost until the end of high school that we realized, “No, we’re staying. It’s never going to get better over there.” So I didn’t assimilate as quickly. My little brother, he was two years old when we came and he became American more easily, right? He didn’t have to go through what I did. It was tough, but then it’s kind of…I always try to look at the good side. It made me tougher, so I’ll take it. I wouldn’t change it.
DH: Right. So you played soccer growing up. Were there any other sports that you did?
RG: I played ping pong pretty good and we’ll have the table downstairs and…
DH: I guess you don’t have to run around too fast for that, right?
RG: Oh, it’s not very far. I can handle that. It fits a slow poke like me. But any sport I like. Squash is a lot of fun and racquetball. But I’m very competitive right. At home, I know it was always the first one that finished eating. My mom said, “It’s not a race.” I said, “Mom, everything’s a race.” This is the way I’m made.
DH: Absolutely! What lessons, Ruben, and I’m using this seriously to speak to athletes a lot because I am interested in and I want to share with our listeners, the lessons that we have taken away from our sporting lives, that we have applied to our lives, in particular, but they can apply to their lives as well. What lessons would you say you have taken away from sports?
RG: Well, gosh, there are so many, but one of them is resilience because in any sport, you don’t win every single time. You’re going to lose, so you have to learn how to come back. What do you do when you lose? What do you do when you’re having a bad… You know, I was just watching the women’s final, Australian Open on T.V. Incredible! The girl from Japan, Osaka, she was winning the first set… She won the first set 7-6 and then she’s winning the second set 5-3 and she’s 14-0, right? She’s got three championship points and then she had a total breakdown, where lost 15 out of the next 20 points and she was crying, and she lost the second set and everybody thought she’s done. Then somehow she put her towel over her head and I think that was a really smart thing to do. She didn’t want to look at anybody. She just wanted to get it in her head. Then she came back in that third set and won and now she’s ranked number one in the world. First Japanese person to be ranked number one in the world in tennis. It’s so… How do you do that? She’s 21, but she’s going to take what she won and she’s going to have that for the rest of her life because now she knows, “Hey, whatever life gives me, I got what it takes inside to fight back, to get back up.”
So that’s one thing. Another thing is teamwork. You know how you can’t do it by yourself? Even in luge, when I started I was a cocky 21-year-old. I thought I could do everything by myself and it didn’t take too many luge runs to realize, “I need some help.” Chiropractors, doctors, financial, everything, so teamwork. Another thing is you have to learn to be coachable. To listen to your coach, to humble yourself to their experience and their leadership. There’s no other way. So, those are things that I’ve taken and used all my life.
DH: I appreciate that. Those are great lessons. People often, especially in the business world, as an entrepreneur, as a salesperson, you tend to think that this is all about me. I have to be a rainmaker and you absolutely have to be, right? The journey starts with you, but it doesn’t end with you because you need people who are there to support you, encourage you, sometimes give you a swift one up the derriere and when it doesn’t go right. You’re absolutely, absolutely right, you have to be resilient, you have to find a way to always bounce back and as you say, you have what it takes inside of you to overcome whatever life throws at you.
RG: I’m going to do something here real quick, okay? Did you hear that little noise about a minute ago?
RG: I was getting a text, so I’m going to turn this off. But my text is a luge. It’s a [makes sound]. It’s the sound of a luge. If you give me a phone call, it’s a, “Dingdong.” It the sound at the start of the race.
DH: Got you.
RG: And if it rings here, I mean, I’ve got Olympics everywhere. I’m bombarding my brain with where I want to go. You have to keep your goals in front of you. You’d be thinking about them all the time because if you don’t, life happens and six months go by and then you realize, “Oh my gosh! I forgot it was going for the Olympics.” I just blew six months.
DH: Interesting point because you are trying to compete in your fifth Olympic Games, aren’t you?
RG: Yes, yes. I get bored. Devon, I have this really weird… Seven years go by after an Olympics and I get really bored and I have to do something. Climb a mountain or do something. Last year, after seven years after the Vancouver Games, I went to Calgary and took a few runs, mainly to see if this old body can handle 6Gs still or five or whatever. Calgary’s not that bad, but I’m sliding better than ever. I’m actually relaxing and listening to the coaches better than I did before. My starts are a little bit worse now. They have me doing yoga and stretching. They said, “You slide’s better, your start is… You’re strong, but you’re paddling. You paddle like a little girl, man. You need a… So, we’re trying to get an extra mile an hour before curve one and then they said I’ve got a shot. If i make I’ll be fifty-nine. Fifty-nine years old in the Beijing Olympics. I’ll be the oldest ever. How cool is that?
DH: Wow! Are you familiar with Grandma Luge, Anne Abernathy from the Virgin Islands?
RG: I’ve been travelling with her for years, yes.
DH: Of course. You may be the oldest guy, but yes, she’s competed in six Olympic Games man.
RG: Yes, I can’t imagine. She did them all straight. I can’t imagine doing one thing for so long. I get bored. I did two and then I quit. I quit for six or seven years, and then I did Salt Lake and then I quit again for seven years and then I did Vancouver and I quit again. But yes, she did six in a row, that’s…
DH: That’s longevity, that’s longevity.
So, it’s kind of interesting. So you’ve retired and come out of retirement three times. When I speak to athletes like us who have retired, they talked about just how tough retirement is. You mentioned being bored, but what is like for you mentally, when you wake up the morning after the Olympic Games and you realize, “Hey, there is not need to go training any more. It’s over.”
RG: You know what? After the Calgary Olympics, I was depressed for about three months and it happened to me again after Albertville Olympics. When women talk about postpartum depression, you know, they just had a baby? It’s the same thing. It’s like, “Oh, oh, I have a baby. I have to change diapers now,” and so on. But after Salt Lake City, it didn’t happen. You know why? Right before the Salt Lake City Olympics, this little kid said, “Hey, Ruben, when you come back from the Olympics, will you be my show and tell project in school?” And I said, “Sure, why not.” And I took the sled and the helmet to show it to the kids and the principal takes me to the auditorium, there are 200 kids there. He says, “You got 45 minutes. Have at them.” I thought I was going to die, because I’ve never taken a speech class in my life and I’m, believe it or not, I’m an introvert. And I get excited when I talk about this stuff, but I’m usually very introverted. I told my story, afterwards, he said, “Man, you’re better than the people we pay who do this for a living. I always wanted to have my own business, so I quit my job three days later and I just started calling every school in Houston. I started a business and so it’s because I had a new dream and a new goal that I was too busy to get depressed.
RG: So what I tell people…That’s a great question, I’m glad you brought it up because you have… When you’re getting close to your dream, you better be thinking about the next train, otherwise, you’re going to be in trouble.
DH: You have to keep on pushing, maybe, you have to keep on pushing.
RG: That’s it! You should make a T-shirt out of that. That would be a good slogan.
DH: Great idea!
RG: Yeah, a book maybe.
DH: Let me write that down, yeah.
RG: But now you’ve got to give me royalties, okay because it’s such a great idea. But you have to have another dream, otherwise, you’re in trouble.
DH: You’re absolutely right. That means if you don’t have a dream, you don’t have something to pull you. If you don’t have something to engage you, then all that you’ve done in the past feels like a let down because there’s nothing energizing you any more to get up in the morning. My first two Olympics were very different because I was in the army in Jamaica. So it was like I took my bobsled uniform off, put my army uniform back on and I went to work. In my head, bobsled was an extension of my military service. But I remember after Salt Lake City, after Nagano, waking up in Salt Lake and like, “Okay, so what do you do with your life now?” Because I wasn’t going to be doing two a days anymore and you’re right. That’s kind of how my speaking career got started. We are going to be talking about your speaking in a minute, but talk to me about the Olympics. You have been to four, man. For me all three of my Olympic experiences were a little bit different. What were yours like What were some of the memories or the fondest memory you have of the Olympics?
RG: You know, Calgary, and I’m sure you agree. That was our first one, your first one and my first one.
DH: You always remember your first, right?
RG: Oh my gosh! Yes. You don’t walk around. You just float around and you develop cheek muscles because you’re smiling non-stop for two weeks. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome? And the people in Calgary are so friendly, you know, and they were so…
DH: They are the best. Absolutely, yes.
RG: Yes. They were so excited because they wanted to get the Olympics for 20 years and they always lost to another city. So when they finally got it, they went nuts! Calgary was awesome. I got goose bumps just telling you about it. Albertville, oh my gosh! Did you go to Albertville?
DH: Yes. I was thinking about this as I was getting ready. We were in the same village up in La Plagne.
RG: La Plagne, yes.
DH: Yes. I was there.
RG: We were in the same building. They had all the bobsled…
DH: Yes, we were in the same building but…
RG: It looked like a coke can, remember?
DH: It was a Club Med.
RG: A Club Med, yes, yes. So, I don’t know about you, but man, after Calgary, Albertville was such a let down, you know. The people, actually they didn’t even want us there because they were having to close their shops and they were losing business. The food was magnificent. They had these filled tables with hundreds of kinds of cheeses, it was all gourmet. But I learned that gourmet food with bad customer service sucks. I’d rather have a sandwich with good customer service.
DH: You know a part of the reason why Albertville was a let down, is because I believe we were spoilt in Calgary. I did not realize that Calgary was the first time in the history of the Winter Olympics when almost everybody was housed in the same village, except for the skiers. They were in Banff. So there was this…
DH: This sense of family. It’s just like it was so easy to meet people from different sports and here we were in La Plagne, who were you seeing? Bobsledders and lugers.
RG: I got my picture with Herschel Walker. I think that’s the highlight of my… Albertville. It was so much of a let down that my buddy, Pablo Garcia, from Spain, he luge for Spain, he and I, we said, “Let’s get out of here.” After our race, because luge is right after the opening ceremonies, after our race, we took a train…
DH: Can you stick a pin? That’s another reason why bobsledders hate you guys.
RG: We have the best schedule. Oh my God!.
DH: Because you’re done, right at the start of the Olympic games, two weeks of partying. Bobsledding, two-man is at the end of the first week, then you train for the second week, four-man at the end of that second week and then the closing ceremonies.
RG: No, you guys are working too hard.
DH: couple of days. It’s just wrong man.
RG: You know what? You probably don’t even know this, but we come a week before. So we get three weeks and we’re the first ones in the Olympic Village, by the time anybody show up, we’re insiders with the maids, the cooks, everybody, right? So we get special treatment.
DH: Another reason to hate losers.
RG: There you go. See you should have played luge. But I know, you like company, That’s okay.
DH; I like company, what can I say? So, you go to Salt Lake, I think you used to sell copiers, right and shredders?
RG: Sold copiers and… Salt Lake, I loved it. Did you do Salt Lake?
DH: I was there, I didn’t compete at the time.
RG: I thought Salt Lake was my favourite one.
DH: That was the toughest Olympic Games, man, Salt Lake. Because I was at the race, watching the race, watching guys I use to beat and go, “I should have been in this race.”
DH: Yes, that would hurt. Yes. They treated us so nice in Salt Lake City. They would always ask, “How is your Olympic experience?” I must have heard that a hundred times and finally realized, “Hey, they must be training them to ask that.” But it’s such a good question because it’s a way of saying, “How’s everything going,” but kind of soft, not like, you know. So can I help you? I go to a store, and somebody says, “can I help you”, “no, I don’t want you to help me. I want to look for myself. I’ll ask you for help when I’m ready.” But how’s your experience, like, “Ohh”. They just treat you so nice, I loved it. And then Vancouver was good, but not as… I don’t know, maybe… It just didn’t feel as good as Calgary. Calgary was just unreal.
DH: Calgary, we were spoilt. It’s hard I think to live up to that standard than 31:36 for sure. So, you know, we are actually talking about dreams earlier and I think, the Olympic Games and competing as an Olympian really epitomizes for us athletes this crowning achievement of your dream, even if you didn’t win a medal. Remember at the Opening ceremonies, marching into the stadium at Calgary, what, 35,000 or 50,000 people. More cameras than you can count and people are screaming and as you’ve watched the Olympics you know.
RG: But they even put sand there for you to make you feel good, man.
DH: But here it is that you’re living that moment that your image is being broadcasted around the world because you have watched this as well and you know that some little kid, somewhere around the world going, “Wow, he must be one of the best athletes in the world.” And in that moment I feel like, “Wow, this is what it feels like to live a dream.”
RG: Oh yes, it was awesome. Let me explain that comment, because nobody is going to understand that stuff. It’s straight insider stuff. So during the Calgary Games, it’s winter and it’s supposed to snow and we’re in Canada in the winter and there was no snow and it was going to look really bad on T.V. So they brought in white sand from somewhere in the Caribbean and they covered the whole stadium in sand. It looked like a beach, but on TV, it looks like snow. It was crazy.
DH: Calgary was crazy. You remember how warm it got? I remember telling people that second week, during the four-man, I was in the back of the pickup driving around in sunglasses and t-shirt, man. I’m like “Wow!”. The Chinook rolled in and it got really, really warm, so, yes, but still an amazing experience.
DH: So four Olympic games, right after Salt Lake, this kid invite you to do show and tell and you killed it, like an Olympian. You killed it
And you go, “Hmm, maybe I should try this speaking thing, right? So that’s how you got started in speaking?
RG: Yes. It was because the principal was in my face and it was almost like he sound like he was mad. He was so passionate. He said, “Man, you got a gift, you need to do this for a living. You are better than the people we pay.” It was that last part that got me interested. I said, “What, you get paid for show and tell?” And he said, “No, it’s the speaking profession. Don’t you know anything?” He changed my life. Well the kid changed my life, by putting me there, but the principal… And see, I tell people when somebody compliments you, they have seen something about you that sticks out. They’ve seen a glimpse of your greatness, right? And so, you need to thank them and you need to think, “Hmm, maybe I am really good at this, otherwise, why would they compliment me, right? And maybe that’s something that I can take to reach my dream.”
DH: Yes, absolutely. But it goes back to this whole business of teamwork because as… in the broadest sense, that a kid and that principal were members of your team. They saw something in you. The kid saw from your experience that you had something to share and the more you shared it, the principal saw that you had a passion for sharing your story, telling stories that is going to help move and inspire people, so that’s awesome. So I know you have written a couple of books. You have written Courage To Succeed which is a bestseller, translated in 10 languages, you have written The Inner Game of Success, you have written Dreams: Struggles and Victories with your daughter Gabrielle. By the way, I have my copy here. And a number of other books. But all your books, Ruben, speaks to the universal principles for success in sports and in business and in life. So, maybe a two-part question here. One, what advice would you have for someone who is thinking about becoming an author and wanting to become a best-selling author? What tips would you share with them?
RG: Yeah, sure. When I got started speaking, I just started calling schools. This is March, right. It’s right after the Olympics, March, April, May, I’m living the dream, right. I’ve got my own business, I’m making money. I was only… I didn’t even know what to charge, so I’m getting $500.00 bucks to speak at a school and I thought I’d won the lottery, right. I was speaking everywhere and I was so focused on the schools that I forgot that the summer was going to be dead, right. Vacation and so June, July and August nothing. Zero Dollars. We’re $50,000.00 in credit card debt because everybody ask me who’s your sponsor, Ruben? Coke, Pepsi, Nike? No, mine are Visa and Master Card. I always put it on the card. Before I did, right. And so I had a big debt and by August, top of the world at the Olympics, in February, by August, we’re on food stamps. Almost lost the house. I mean, very humble at this point and I realized, “Oh my God! I tell everybody they have to find a coach or a mentor or somebody that’s already done what they need to do and I’m not even taking my own advice. I need to find somebody that understands this business.
So I found a guy in Houston that had been… He had actually been a top copier salesman too. He was number one in I.B.M. or Xerox or something. He became a speaker. So he knew sales and 12 years in it and he’s doing great. He’s living in a great, big house and driving a great car, so he’s got fruit on the trees. He’s not a theorist. You have to find somebody who has done it. So I said, “Man, will you be my mentor.” At first he didn’t want to. He says, “Nah, nobody ever listens to me and I’m not wasting my time.” I say, “Man, whatever you say, I’ll do. I’ll make you look good man. If you tell me I’ve got to shave my head and wear lipstick and make me a better speaker, man I’d do it right now.” He goes, “Okay. So we’re going to meet once a month, you take me out for lunch,” that’s what he said, “You got me for an hour. Okay, bring a list of questions, I’ll answer anything you want and then at the end, I’ll give you some homework. If we ever meet and you didn’t do last month’s homework, it’s over because I want action people.” I said, “Sounds good man, but I can’t afford to buy you lunch because I’m on food stamps, okay. We’re going to go to Starbucks, you can have anything on the menu as long as it’s coffee of the day. Put as much sugar in it as you want, but that’s all I’m buying.” He laughs and said, “Okay, fine.” The first time we met, he says, “I don’t care if you’re a 10-time Olympian unless you write a book, no one’s going to take you seriously because a good author is considered the authority of the subject. He wrote the book on it. I told him, “I can’t write a book. I made C’s in English. In fact, my parents, they celebrated when I came home with a C.” He says, “It doesn’t matter man. You’ve got a great story. You write it down, we give it to some A students, they clean it up, okay. That’s just grammar.” I said, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t think about that.” He goes, “Yes, it’s called editing, so shut up and sit down.” He was like that. He was like the tough coach.
But that was The Courage To Succeed. It has been translated to a bunch of languages and then I learn the process. What I learned is that you have to break it down. Everybody has a book in them, they do, because everybody has life experiences and everybody can teach somebody else about something. So, don’t write a book, write 20 articles. So, figure out what your table contents might be, write what the topics of your articles might be and talk about it with some of your friends, so you come up with something that you think is going to be helpful. Then do a little bit of research, spend a few weeks on the internet, reading and take files, one file for every chapter, and every time you read something that fits that article, you put it in there. And then you start writing them and before long, in a year you could have a book. It’s a big project, but anybody can do it. Believe it or not people, I tell people I’m an Olympian, “Wow!” I tell them I’m an author, “Whoa!” What? They think it’s harder to be an author. It’s not. It’s a lot harder to be an Olympian.
DH: I think so too. I would endorse that for sure.
DH: Yes, but you’re absolutely right. I think it’s a key to achieving any goal. Like it’s to break it down a little bit at a time and as I always say, “You don’t eat an elephant with one big bite.” It is like many tiny bites. Yes, and so if you…
RG: I’m half Italian. It’s ‘you don’t eat a salami, you have to slice it’.
DH: There you go. Absolutely. So if you take it one step at a time and it’s really great advice. Consider each chapter really as just an article. Yes.
RG: An article. Yes. Maybe you do a blog for one year.
DH: You may not able to write a chapter, but you can always write an article. That’s pretty good advice. So that’s great advice, man. So, secondly, what is a secret to success Ruben? We know there is no linear path to success. There’s always going to be obstacles in our way, there are going to be frustrations and setbacks and sometimes a steep learning curve and broken bones, in your case. Sometimes it’s just damn hard. So what is it would you say that keeps you from throwing in the towel. What makes you unstoppable?
RG: When I was a kid, my dad got me to read biographies. He said, if you study the lives of great people, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work in life. Over and over again, what I saw was perseverance. All these successful people I read about, they were just a bunch of hard heads. They wanted their dreams so much. They had two types of courage. They have the courage to get started and they have the courage to not quit. Well, the courage to get started that comes from ‘believe it’s possible’. You believe something is possible, “Hey, I’ll give it a try. If you want it badly enough, nothing will make you quit and so if you stay in the game long enough to learn the skills, give yourself a chance to learn the skills that will help you reach your dream.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard, but it’s possible. Then surround yourself with winners and with coaches and with people that will keep you in the game. My people… I have a dream team. I have a dream team. I’m sure you do too. The people that are my encouragers, people that support me and if somewhere back then I realized right away, I was on the bench in my soccer team. I would tell the kid next to me, I’d say, “Hey, I’m going to be in the Olympics in four years.” He almost fell off laughing. After experiencing that a few times, I realize there are 2 types of people in the world; they’re either on your team or they’re not, right?
RG: Associate with the good ones and you disassociate from the other ones because they could steal your dreams away.
DH: Absolutely. Agreed. Yes. So, you mention courage. How would you define courage?
RG: Aristotle, he said that you become what you repeatedly do. So if you do something lots of times, you become like that. You become known for that. So, courage, it doesn’t mean you’re fearless. It means you’re afraid but you do it anyways. You fell off that horse and what’d they tell the cowboy? Get back on the horse. Otherwise, you’re just going to move to a city and drive taxicabs throughout your life, I don’t know. So, you have to do what you’re feeling. You have to be willing to do that and that’s why I really needed a coach.
In fact, when I was teaching Gabriella, my daughter to ride a bike, many years ago, the first time, I thought, “Oh, piece of cake. We’re going to do this in a day.” Well, actually she was so excited, but after she fell a few times, she wasn’t so excited anymore. I had to realize that I have to help her, I have to encourage her and I have to push her, tough love, to get her to keep going. On the second day, we came back, it’s still not much better and then I realized that whenever she got afraid, she stopped pedalling and the she lost momentum and she fell. So I said, “Okay, from now on, we pedal, pedal, pedal.
Even if you fall, or you’re on your side, I want to see you pedalling. So, she started doing that and now she’s going 10 feet, instead of five feet. On the third day, she just took off and she went off about 30 feet, but she had no control, so she went off, kind of to the side. Looks like a question mark when she made this circle, but she must have thought that I was holding her bike and so when she saw me, her eyes got big, “Ah!” Pow! She fell down. She jumped up, “Dad, I did it.” “That’s right baby, that’s right.” That’s when I realized how important a coach is because he helps you get through the fear stage. You can’t do it by yourself.
DH: You said something really insightful there. You told her, “Hey, no matter what, keep pedalling,” because the thing that gets you through the fear, which we define as courage is the action. It’s the fact that you keep pedalling, while they keep on pushing.
RG: That’s the point. That’s right.
DH: What was it like for you…? Talk to me about…
RG: It’s hot now man. I’m getting excited telling you all these stories. There goes the coat.
DH: So dude, I remember and I can think back right now and feel me on the start of a bobsled race and how, I will not say I’m terrified, I’m just a nervous wreck, until they say the starter is clear. And part of that obviously is the fear for sure and you know that once the starter is clear, it’s time to take action.
RG: Yes, 30 seconds. There’s this little clock that’s sticking down.
DH: What was it like for you? How did you get through those minutes, moments leading to the start?
RG: Well, with the luge, they start you on curve 10, and you’re going 30 miles an hour and there is crash, crash, crash, crash and as soon as you figure it out, coach moves you up a couple of curves. Now you’re going 40 miles an hour. “Oh my gosh, 40 miles an hour!
DH: 40 miles per hour feels like you’re flying.
RG: Oh my gosh! and that ice is hard and now 50, you literally crash your way to the top in the luge, okay. And then even when you make it to the top, well, every track is different, so it takes… And I don’t know if you experience this, but let’s say I made a mistake, I was late into curve seven. If I don’t correct, then it’s going to be later on curve eight and I am going to crash on curve nine. But you don’t have no experience, so you don’t even know that you’re late and so all these crashes. It takes several years before your brain gets trained to understand it and you actually listen to the coach. Sometimes, coach… It’s hard… It may be a really tight curve and it’s hard to get out, like from the old days. The old Lake Placid track, curve one from the men’s, it was impossible to get out.
RG: Hit the wall straight away and boom! So, they would tell us to drive up because then we would be able to have a…
DH: You have to get high to to get off.
RG: Right, but that didn’t make sense. I’m thinking, “No. If I’m driving as hard as I can and I can’t go up, if I drive up, I’m going to fly out. And so, I wasn’t listening to coach because I didn’t trust him. So, yes, it’s a mental struggle. Now what the coaches are telling is, “Yes, you are listening to us for the first time, but you still… You trust us but you don’t trust yourself yet. So I come out of curve eight, like in Calgary. Guys, curve 8, if you saw Cool Runnings, okay curve 8…..
DH: That’s where the problem started.
RG: And then the straight away that come surprise you, like big circle, but they crash. Well, curve 8, if you don’t come out right and the straight away, it just leans a little bit, just a little bit, and there is wind that pushes you to the left, and so by the end…So even when I’m coming out straight out of eight, I get nervous and I put my feet down. They say, “Man, you had a great line, why’d you put your feet down. You have to trust yourself.”
DH: Yes, yes, yes. And that’s… I think… That’s all part of the growth and it’s really interesting because here it is, you’re working on your fifth Olympic Games and you’re still learning.
RG: Still learning. I’m a baby, I’m a baby. Listen to this. I am so amazed. Coach always tells me at the end of the run, “Ruben, you must relax because I am tight because I’m scared to death. You can’t steer. You can’t be good in any sport if you’re tight. You have to be loose, relaxed. I was… I had a new helmet when I was in Calgary and they were… they have to adjust the visor so it would fit me. I’m sitting in this workshop and one of the coaches, who is a three-time Olympian from Latvia, his name is Buntus. And so Buntus says, “Okay, let’s try it now.” So I’m laying down and we’re seeing if the visor is going to fit. “Good, now sit up. Okay, now lay down.” When I lay down, I would grab the handles like this. The handle with my fist. That’s how I always grabbed them. He said, “What are you doing?” That’s not how you grab a handle.” I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “No, you grab it with these two fingers, like a pistol, okay because if you grab it like this, it makes your forearm tense and that tenseness…..
DH: You need your shoulders to steer.
RG: Yes, you hold it like this, just so you’re holding, but you can’t like force your two fingers.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” “Okay, lay down again. Now lay down, muscle memories, still have the layups. Wait, get off that sled.” He took the grinder and he cut my handles so they only fit two fingers. I said, “What are you doing to my sled?” He goes, “I’m making you faster. Shut up.” So four-time Olympian doesn’t even know how to grab hold of the handles. Can you believe that?
DH: That’s the tough love right there. That’s a teammate that you need so…
RG: Oh, yes.
DH: We never stop learning, we never stop needing teammates, no matter how accomplished we think we are.
RG: You’re green, you’re growing. If you’re ripe, you’re going to rot.
DH: Absolutely. This has been awesome. It’s really great to catch up with you and hear your stories and get you to share those gems, those pearls of wisdom with us. So thank you so much for appearing on Keep On Pushing. I know you are a speaker and I want you to tell us where people can find you. Let’s start there.
RG: Sure. My website is thelugeman.com, the lugeman. The Iceman was taken. That would have been so much easier. It’s thelugeman.com. There are videos there on all kinds of cool stuff.
DH: All right. Cool, so yes folks, thelugeman.com to find my friend, Ruben Gonzalez, the luger, who has an amazing story and some real nuggets of wisdom that’s going to help you to really reach your next level in terms of your business and your life in general. On that note Ruben, I know you have a special offer for our listeners as well.
RG: Well, I’ve always believed it’s all about mental toughness. Coaching… Coach used to always say, “You’re only six inches away from success.” And I’ve never understood what that meant and he goes, “Yes, six inches. This is between your ears okay.” And so, I put together a course and what I see there, it helps… that keeps people back. Everybody knows what they need to do, but getting themselves to do it, that’s the catch. It’s like you have all this firepower, but no trigger finger because it’s that fear of the unknown, fear of a failure that holds people back.
So I created an online course. It’s about 10 hours altogether between videos and audios, 70 really short messages… lessons that you can go at your own speed and it’s designed to help you grow inside become mentally tough persevere and to develop the habits that you and I used to reach our goals. It’s not rocket science guys. It’s just reprogramming your mind so you can do what you can do. So, you can check it out, you can actually even check out some of the videos, test it out and pre-test it ahead of time. But it’s olympiasuccess.com and it’s $497.00, $497.00 bucks, but the Cool Running special, if you put “coolrunnings” as your product code, you can get $300.00 bucks off, all right, so only $197.00. It’s good stuff and it’s good stuff for your kids too. So that’s the offer, olympiasuccess.
DH: Thank you for that man. So olympiasuccess.com.
RG: olympiasuccess.com and coolrunnings, all one own word put together, that your coupon code. You better spell it right because that’s worth 300 bucks to you.
DH: All right guys. olympiasuccess.com and don’t forget, it’s all about coolrunnings. Use that as your discount code. You’ll get this amazing success coach in Ruben and his course, to help you become mentally tough and get to the next level. Ruben, ‘Lugeman’, it’s been awesome. Thank you so much for gracing us with your presence and sharing your wisdom with us. We are better for it my man.
RG: Sledgod, man. I tell you. It’s great man. I wish you, oh man. I hope I can see you soon. You can come visit me in Colorado one day.
DH: Yes, same to you, Ruben.