Thoughts on Wrestling, Business, and Life

It Was A Good Run

Last week was an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs. I had one of the best surprises of my life while I was in Helsinki when my wife showed up in my hotel lobby. I had just finished working out, and when I got to the hotel, Coach Fraser told me that he had something for me. I had no idea what he had for me. I thought maybe some extra perdiem, or a new bus or competition schedule, but really I wasn’t expecting much of anything. I followed him around the corner, and to my surprise, I saw my beautiful wife sitting in a chair in the lobby. I was in a state of shock when I saw her, and I couldn’t comprehend what it was that she was doing in Helsinki, Finland thousands of miles from where I saw her last. A couple of questions came to mind with the two biggest ones being: Where are the kids, and how did you manage to have money to pay for the trip? It took me a good fifteen minutes of being together before I understood that yes my wife was there and that she was staying for the competition. I was so happy and excited that she was there for me, a time when I really needed her to be there.

We had a great time together over the next few days. We went to downtown Helsinksi, and I showed her what Europe was like. It was her very first time out of the country, and I was so happy to share a little bit of what my life has been like on trips over the last decade. We even had an opportunity to go to the temple in Helsinki, Finland. It was a very positive experience. Things were perfect, and I was hoping that it would set the tone for a great performance on the weekend, but it didn’t go as I had planned.

I made weight relatively easily, and I felt well rested and prepared for the competition. I felt like it was my time to shine. I drew Balacs Kiss from Hungary the first round of the tournament. He was a world champion in 2009, but I had beaten him the last time that I wrestled him. I knew that it would be a tough match, but I was confident that I could beat him again. As the match started, we were both wrestling at a very intense pace, pushing and pulling and grappling for position. We both knew that we were in a dog fight for with our Olympic dreams on the line. He caught me with a quick arm throw that I did not see or feel coming until it was too late. I was down and I knew that I had to score. We battled on our feet for the rest of the period, and I attacked with a high dive and got in deep to his waist. I scored one point from securing the take down, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the three points that he earned from the one arm throw.

The second period was just as intense as the first one was with both of us battling hard for the score. I executed an arm drag and drove him to the edge of the mat, inches away from a push out and a score, but he maneuvered out of the danger zone. The match went to parterre position on the mat. The whistle blew and I secured my lock. I went for my gut wrench. My lock was tight and I had a good drive. At one point I felt his hips slightly lift, and I thought that I would have the turn secured. However, it didn’t work. I tried and tried again but with no success. Time ran out and my opponent was awarded a point for his defensive display. In an instant the Olympic dream that I had vividly carried with me for years was snuffed out. The bright candle of hope that I had nurtured and cared for for years was put out so quickly. It was like all of the sudden I was in a dark room and I all I could feel was pain. The pain of loss. The pain of getting so close to something and not obtaining it. The pain of failure. How could I make sense of getting so close to the Olympics for the third time in my wrestling career and not making that breakthrough? It hurt. It still hurts. It will probably always hurt to some degree. All I can hope is that God has something big in store for me.

Since the tournament, I have been able to reflect on my life and my wrestling career. I spent the last decade of my life sacrificing for my Olympic dream, but I was also rewarded in a great way even though I didn’t reach all of my goals in wrestling. I was able to earn a world medal, win a team world championship, win numerous pan american championships, as well as gain a ton of international wrestling experience. I have made some amazing friends and seen things that many people will never see in a life time. I have been blessed with the kindness of others who helped me along the way ranging from coaches, teammates, family, sponsors, and some people who are just fans of the sport and wanted me to succeed. My life has been made much fuller by the people who I have met through the sport of wrestling and I have learned lessons from wrestling that will translate well into any other endeavor to which I commit myself to in the future. I have had the privilege of traveling the world and seeing how a variety of cultures live, by the which I have been able to develop a greater appreciation and love for the United States. I was able to represent my country and my family. I had fun.

All in all, even though I didn’t accomplish all of the goals that I had set for myself, there is one thing that I know, can appreciate, and be proud of: It was a good run.


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19 thoughts on “It Was A Good Run
  1. Scott

    Justin: I will definitely share this with my son. You have put in perfect perspective the right approach as we all seek our goals. You fought the great fight and left a great mark on so many of us, especially those coming up the ranks. You are a true champion.

  2. Candace vering

    U r amazing not only as an athlete but friend and family man…so proud of all you have done!!!!

  3. Vernon Mullins

    What a deal my friend! What a deal! Indeed when everything is said and done in this world, it is experience that we all will look back upon and rely upon for the forward momentum of our lives to come. Albert Einstein said “Education is what remains after you have forgotten everything that you have been taught. What is left, that is your education.” I would wager to say that includes all the “life education” we gain through our goals and pursuits even outside of the classroom. You have come out with a great deal of education, experience, and wisdom from you pursuits, let alone great accomplishment and growth. Good job Justin! You’re the man! Onward and upward!

  4. Erik

    Hello I’m Erik from Mexico.

    I congratulate you for your effort indeed you are great wrestler and a role model keep it up, we that look up too you are not disappointed.

  5. John Sachs

    Justin, you have always stood tall for greco-roman wrestling and Team USA and we all thank you for the effort and dignity you bring to everything you do.

  6. Tucker

    As a high school wrestler, this story is very inspiring. I’ve got two years left to accomplish the goals I set for myself freshman year. Lets go.

  7. Jimmy May


    You are and will continue to be a great ambassador to the sport of wrestling. I met you during Greg William’s summer camps. I was extremely impressed with you and your brother. The high level of your wrestling was obvious; but I was most impressed with you as a young man of character and class. Congratulations on a great wrestling career and I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

    Jimmy May
    Head Wrestling Coach
    Baker University

  8. A.L. Haizlip


    Those of us who have dreamed with you; those of us who have dreamed for you; and, those of us who have cared and hoped for your success – we are the ones who are blessed by you … by your journey! You are awesome Dude!

    A. L.
    The Sports Announcer

  9. Tony Rotundo

    Good sir, thank you for always wrestling with intensity and a great deal of heart. No one can take away all that you have learned and hopefully you can spread some of that knowledge to others on their quests.

  10. BJ Wright

    You’re the man, you’ll always know that! It hurts to make it so far & come so close, but I do believe God has something in store for you. We’ll just have the rest of our lives to figure it out..haha! I love you man, you’re always welcome in my home! BJ

  11. Rick Bullock

    Ruiz, how many years has it been bro! I’m inspired that you have worked towards achieving your dream for nearly 20 years, from when you 1st started wrestling at Eisenhower with Coach Crane and his belly. Many people don’t have the courage to continue on after the very first setback, but you continued working and putting in the time and effort to become great. Ruiz, you represent yourself, your family, and the country in a manner which requires nothing but the utmost respect. I offer you, your parents, and your brothers my best wishes for the future.

    Rick Bullock

  12. Michael Jordan


    From the time I met you on one of your many trips, I was always impressed with your dedication to the sport, the dignity and class as you represented our country in competition and the example of how to live a good life in every aspect. Our world is much better with all you have done as a member of USA national teams and your accomplishments as an athlete, husband and father of two beautiful children are to be celebrated. May God bless you many times more in the next phase of your life.

    Michael Jordan

  13. Surofchek

    I remember practicing with you when you were fresh out of high school at the OTC. You’ve come a long way and accomplished much more than many others before you. Congratulations on a good career. My advice to you know is don’t look back. There are great things ahead of you, embrace your wrestling lessons and work ethic and channel it towards a new career beginning. Remember, like wrestling, success doesn’t come over night so be patient and persistent.
    Best of Luck

  14. Collette Brunson


    You have been an amazing friend and example to our family. I am so happy to hear the Sarah was there for you… what a great support! Our heart goes out to you and I am so happy for all you have been able to accomplish… and continue to accomplish. We sure think the world of you and your family!!! Thanks for being who are and sharing it will all of us:)

    Collette Brunson

  15. Justin Widhalm

    You and your family are truly amazing! Ever since I met you prior to the 2001-2001 season at Nebraska, I have always looked to you as an example. You are truly the epitome of a man, in everything you have done as well as what you will do in the future. It has been my distinct honor to call you my friend, and next time you are in the Springs I expect a call. My wife cooks for an army and I need reinforcements;)

  16. justin

    Thank you everyone for your kind words. I really appreciate friends and fans like you who have supported me over the years. I wish you the very best in all that you do, and I thank you for the inspiration and support that you have provided to me throughout my career in the great sport of wrestling. I am very happy of the connection that we have, and I am so glad that you took the time to comment here. It is even providing strength to me now as I move on to a new chapter of my life. Thank you.

  17. Dale Oliver

    I just want to say that the United States was lucky to have a person of your caliber and a wrestler of your abilities for as long as we did.
    Although it is sad to see you go I can certainly say that it has been an honor to have been able to help you reach your goals in wrestling. In the limited time I have had the privilege to work with you I can say that it has enriched my life and been a great experience. I know that all of the coaches at the OTC and on the National Coaching Staff feel the same way and I would like to go out on a limb and say that anyone who has worked with you does also.
    I say all this with only the intent on saying that you are a great wrestler and a great guy and you will be missed.
    You have a great wife and family and I see nothing but good things for you in the future. I’m certainly wishing that and will miss seeing you at training camps and tours.
    Good Luck,

  18. John & Debra

    Justin….We miss you friend!! It was A GOOD RUN and we are so glad to be part of your life! You are such a great guy and so COOL…as we always have and always will talk about or cool wrestling friend who is amazing. We miss you and your family so much. The next chapter in your life will be …i’m sure ..nothing less than fun and full of adventure. Can’t wait to catch up soon. We love you!

    John & Debra


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