The path of Jenny Ruiz took to play soccer is a true story of inspiration. Currently, Ruiz is member of the Mexican National Team and Seattle Reign FC (NWSL), which highest level of women’s professional soccer. Ruiz’s trek back to top level soccer shows us that we can indeed relight dreams that we put to bed and a story we all can take a page from.
When Ruiz left the game in 2004 she followed other callings and made a huge impact in the lives others. She became a wife and mother of two. She taught inner-city children in East LA. She did mission work in Brazil. What Ruiz accomplished in seven years is truly remarkable. As a former player myself I know the desire and itch to player never goes away. I was able to speak with Jenny and ask her about her journey back to the pitch. A come-back that began in an LA gym on a treadmill.
Jenny Ruiz: I stopped playing after my senior season of college soccer (UNLV) . At that time there wasn’t really much opportunity for me to make a life as a professional soccer player, WUSA had folded and the WPS didn’t exist. So I entered the “real world” although I never really had closure on my soccer career. I missed the game INCREDIBLY. When the WPS came around I was four months pregnant with my second child, so I didn’t even entertain the idea of returning. Nonetheless, the desire to play never truly leaves your blood and almost instantly surges in you every time you see a ball. I did use my juggling skills in the “real world” to grab the attention of my hard to reach students in East LA and as a means to make friends during my absence from the sport around the world from villages in West Africa to remote parts of Brazil.
CF: What sparked your come-back (in 2011)? And during your time away from the game how close did you follow the WPS and the Mexican National Team?
JR: I honestly didn’t follow the WPS or the Mexican National Team as closely as I would like to admit. I didn’t know it then, but I had a lot of regrets about my playing career and watching was surprisingly painful. I absolutely had no intention of ever playing at that level again. In 2011, I had just returned to the U.S. and I was enjoying my time playing in the local coed soccer circuit in the Bay Area. At this time, I started working out at the gym more and more. The 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany was in full-swing, and all of the games were being broadcasted in the gym. There they were Mexico, my country, battling in the World Cup! I closed my eyes and wondered for a second if I could have been there playing in a World Cup, but I shook it off, at least I thought I did. It was a ridiculous thought, but in reality, I couldn’t shake it, I returned to the gym day after day and watched every game that Mexico played in. I ran on the treadmill while they ran on the field. I increased the speed as Mexico pushed against Japan. I would increase the resistance as they battled New Zealand. I remember returning home and telling my husband that I wanted to play again. I had no idea where the courage had come from. He was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to go for it, I obviously wasn’t getting any younger. I contacted the coaches with the Mexican National Team, and after not seeing me play for 7 years they extended me an invitation to tryout.
CF: What were some of your biggest hurdles getting back into the game and the process of re-joining the Mexican National Team?
JR: The hurdles were many, but as a mother the biggest one was having to leave my children. It took my entire family coming together to support me to make this dream happen. When the day came for me to fly down to Mexico City for my tryout I stood at the entrance of the security check point with my husband and continued to contemplate the pros and cons of getting on that plane. To be completely honest, I almost didn’t. Yet, once I made the decision to get on the plane, I knew regardless of what happened at the tryout I would be able to put all my regrets aside, and I would have closure on my soccer career one way or another.
CF: Now in your time away from the game you got married, had two children, obtained your masters, taught in inner-city Los Angels and did mission work in Brazil…..sounds like you kept busy?
CF: How have all those experiences shaped as person and a player now?
JR: These experiences have definitely shaped me into the woman I am today. They have helped me to see how beautiful and unique each individual and culture truly is, they have strengthened me by helping me to see I can live in any circumstance, and they have helped me to put away a bit of my selfishness. By no means have they made me a perfect human being, but they have definitely helped shape me into a better person. This has definitely transferred into my game, as well. The biggest difference I can see now is that I don’t let soccer define me. If I had a bad practice or game, 10 years ago it would plague me for days. My primary identity was as a soccer player, but now it is as a believer, a mother, and as a wife, so a bad day on the field has to stay on the field.
CF: Being you’re a mother and a wife, have you found yourself being a role for mothers and even teammates?
JR: I hope I am. That would make so much of this worth it, to inspire others and encourage them to go after their dreams.
CF: How important is for players like yourself to stay involved in the game through coach and signing autographs after your games to help grow the game?
CF: What’s your thoughts on the Seattle – Portland rival. And what was it like playing against Portland in front nearly 17,000 fans?
CF: Thank you for your time Jenny, I wish you and your teammates the best of luck!