Real-life "Rudy" Wows Rapid City Audience: 'Never Give Up'
Featured speaker at this year's Rapid City, “Day of Excellence,” is someone who knows a thing or two about taking a hit and coming back for more.
Daniel Ruettiger, better known to the world as Rudy, the diminutive Notre Dame football player, is in Rapid City to energize and inspire with his message of, “Never Give Up,” “Follow Your Dream,” and “Roll With the Punches.”
During his stay, I had the chance to talk to Rudy, now age 64, about his remarkable life and the passion he still brings to every situation, big or small.
The scenes from the popular film are part of movie legend: The undersized linebacker with the can-do spirit, fighting back incredible odds both on and off the field, to live out his dream. Despite spending endless days as a tackling dummy on the practice squad, finding the tenacity and grit to wear the uniform for the first time in his final game of eligibility as a player.
All, for one glorious moment, a chance to make a single tackle on a single play to go down in history as a football player at Notre Dame’s storied gridiron program.
For Daniel, Rudy Ruettiger, the ‘golden dome,’ of both helmet and Cathedral has given way to the “golden years,” of life, and the line of scrimmage is now a reception line, where as he works a room of VIP’s during Tuesday’s pre-appearance regalia at a Rapid City hotel, he proves again, he can still deliver a big hit.
"The credit union guys are all standing over here, and the bank guys are over here," Ruettiger says, clearly ribbing the two traditionally rival groups of the financial world. “See how quiet the credit union guys are, now?” Rudy says. The room erupts in laughter.
Telling his story at dozens of speaking engagements every year.
"You have the ability to be great in your moment...and that's what you have is your moment...."
Watching him work the room, it's impossible to miss that Rudy Ruettiger still has the same zest for life, the same passion and enthusiasm that helped him reach his dream. People still respond instantly to that high -octane Ruettiger charm. The repartee and zingers still come easily for the man people know for his athletic heroics, but less for the fact that he overcame dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder to gain a degree from one of America's most prestigious universities. Rapt onlookers listen to a story that makes a ride from Rapid City Regional Airport sound like an African safari. Even his driver isn't safe from the retelling.
"The poor guy was just sitting there the whole time, like, "Who is this guy?"
And his message still inspires people across the nation to have the courage to reach their own dreams, no matter the odds.
"Thank you for coming, and thank God for all of your dreams, thank you...."
After the reception, I ask Rudy about his life since the movie and about the national affection that still follows his story of overcoming incredible odds to live out his dream of football glory.
"You know you get tired of, ‘Rudy, what happened. It's like, who cares what happened, did you get the message? That's the purpose of the movie is the message."
Even decades after the amazing struggle to accomplish his dream, what clearly matters to the cultural legend is that people retain and remember the core values and lessons of the life he lived in South Bend. And while few of us will ever know what it’s like to have our lives captured on Hollywood celluloid for posterity, Rudy’s advice to every prospective dreamer remains the same.
"The movie was meant to do one thing. Never quit on a dream that you have,” Rudy says. "The key is what I get excited about, what I get inspired, when I see people move on their dream when they have challenges and what they did. I love people that work through their struggles."