By Jeff Odom
Sunlake girls weightlifter Alex Ruiz had one thing on her mind during the state meet Feb. 9 — redemption.
The 5-foot-1, 116-pound senior’s dreams of winning an individual championship were dashed last year when she was disqualified in the first round for cursing.
“I knew I had to go in and be a better person and a better athlete,” Ruiz said. “I knew I had a second chance, and I needed to be able to perform my best.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Ruiz became the first girl in Pasco County to capture the 119-pound individual state crown while breaking the weight division record in bench press (180).
“I was just really focused on getting that first lift,” Ruiz said. “Once I got through that, I knew I had confidence in me, and I was able to get all three lifts.”
It was a proud moment for fifth-year Seahawks coach Denise Garcia, who had to convince Ruiz to keep going after her misfortune last season.
“She worked so hard for it, and people don’t know what’s behind the scenes,” Garcia said. “It’s amazing to see what she’s done, because she’s sacrificed so much.”
Ruiz, who took gold by two points over Navarre High’s Skye Barberi, lifted 330 total pounds with a clean and jerk of 150.
Garcia ran over and wrapped her arms around the state champion when the final score was announced.
“Everything that you want in an athlete is who Alex is,” Garcia said. “Her work ethic, her training, she’s hungry, and she wants it. You can’t teach the wanting that she has inside, and that’s what set her off.”
Ruiz said the amount of work Garcia put into her career is what kept her going, adding that she owes Garcia a lot for her success.
“She’s been a pain in my neck the past three years,” Ruiz joked. “I just know that that pushing someone along so much means that they see a lot of potential and dedication in you, and for that I am so thankful to her for not giving up on me after what happened last year. It was a lesson learned, and I definitely learned my lesson.”
Before the start of the meet, Ruiz approached the same judge that she had used profanity toward.
“After I apologized to him, I just felt a relief went away and I told myself, ‘OK, I’m ready to win a championship,’” Ruiz said. “I didn’t even ask my coach if I could, I just went straight up to him and I apologized. … He smiled and told me good luck, and that felt really good.”
As for her future, Ruiz plans on exploring the possibility of competing in the Junior Olympics and one day becoming a firefighter.
—Follow Jeff Odom on Twitter: @JOdomLaker
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.