A golden example: Ruddell keeps focus on God on and off the court
While most athletes focus on winning, Jennifer Ruddell keeps her focus on God.
Tough on the court and strong in her faith, her convictions keep her head in the game and her eyes set squarely on the prize.
Ruddell has accomplished what few athletes actually attain -- she won gold, not just once or twice, but three times. Her first came in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece. In 2007, she won gold again at the Parapan American Games. That win was followed by another victory less than a year later in Beijing, China at the 2008 Paralympic Games.
Ruddell, assistant professor of sports management at Shorter College, is a standout when it comes to wheelchair basketball. It’s a sport she never dreamed of taking part in until successive ACL injuries forced her off the court. “I had my first injury in 1995; then 2000 was when I had the injury that made the doctor say no more sports.” All totaled, Ruddell has had five knee surgeries.
With a natural talent for sports, basketball in particular, Ruddell didn’t let the doctor’s orders stop her – she found a way to work around it. And she found it purely by accident.
In college at the University of Illinois, Ruddell said a friend introduced her to the world of wheelchair basketball.
“I had a friend in a chair, and we were just shooting around one day and he told me that I should try it out,” Ruddell said. She tried it, liked it and officially became a member of the Fighting Illini in 2001.
Even though Ruddell has full use of her legs and doesn’t need a wheelchair for day-to-day activities, her knee injury allowed her to be on the team.
“People might think that I wouldn’t have liked playing basketball this way, but for me, it was so amazing because this was the first time on the court where I didn’t have to worry about my knee. It was just a wonderful feeling.”
That wonderful feeling turned into a passion for Ruddell, one that led her down the path to a goal medal in Beijing.
Once in China, Ruddell didn’t let the pressure of being on the U.S. Paralympic team take her sights off God. That was the key to her success, she said.
“One of my prayers was that we would have a Christian team. In Athens, there were only a few. That made it hard.” Ruddell prayed for her teammates to have a heart for the Lord, and God provided.
“The Beijing team was great. It was just a great experience. There were six Christians, and we really had a lot of chemistry. All of them participated in team prayer, even those that weren’t believers, and to me, that’s what it’s about. Not the gold, not to win, it’s about a lot more. Even with our situations, God is still great and He still provides.”
And while Ruddell enjoys the competitiveness of wheelchair basketball and the chance to show off her skills, she never underestimates the power of leading by example.
“The last year I was able to play was my freshman year in college. My sophomore year, I became a Christian, and that’s one reason I wanted to play wheelchair basketball. I realized God was giving this to me, and I wanted to give back to him. It allows me to minister to people with disabilities and people that might be going through tough times.”
Ruddell has a message for aspiring athletes, one that she’s tried to follow throughout her basketball career. “Keep pursuing your goal but don’t get too wrapped up in your identity of being an athlete. As long as you are following God’s path, it’s going to happen.”
Jennifer Ruddell, assistant professor of sports management, with her
gold medal in front of Sheffield-Thompson.