Former valedictorian, three-time state champ continues remarkable climb
By Will O’Brien (TM ’07)
Rudy Ruiz (TM ’96) has built a remarkable life around the pillars of education, wrestling, and God.
A Thomas More valedictorian, three-time state wrestling champion, Stanford graduate, philanthropic leader, and accomplished educator, Ruiz was exposed to these pillars early and often while growing up in Milwaukee’s heavily Latino Walker’s Point neighborhood.
“Education has always been a priority for my family,” said Rudy, now an education consultant and a soon-to-be Johns Hopkins doctoral degree-holder. “It was something really emphasized from the time we were little.”
One of four siblings raised by second-generation Mexican-American parents, Rudy Sr. and Debra, Rudy attended Golda Meir, a Milwaukee Public Schools campus for gifted students, for most of his elementary school education. He continued to blossom academically while following his family’s wrestling tradition.
Rudy Sr. was a state runner-up while attending St. John’s Cathedral High School, a since-closed Catholic school on Milwaukee’s east side where he and Debra first met. Five of Debra’s brothers wrestled at Bradley Tech, collecting three individual state titles along the way. And at age five, Rudy watched his father’s youngest brother, Carlos, win the 1984 state championship.
Rudy Sr. spent three years teaching his son fundamentals on a small, simple mat at the United Community Center before Rudy started competing. Rudy’s father and uncle Rob Morales continued to coach him during his time at Thomas More, helping Rudy develop into perhaps the most accomplished wrestler in school history.
A lifelong church-goer, Rudy met his wife, Dagmar, at Oak Creek Assembly of God in 1993 while a high school freshman. The couple has three teenage sons, the oldest of whom just started college.
“I have built my life on Biblical principles and have always strived to lead from the seat I am in,” Rudy said. Rudy has carried out those principles throughout his life, participating in music ministry at Thomas More, leading Bible study with Athletes in Action at Stanford, and, when he returned to Wisconsin as a college graduate, starting the Sons of Jacob Wrestling Club, a development youth program.
“I have found that God always provides new opportunities for growth and impact as I have worked to live out and share my Christian faith in both my personal and public arenas.”
Weighing all of 88 pounds, Rudy had plenty of room to grow upon enrolling at Thomas More. Rudy chose Thomas More because of its proximity to his family’s new home in Cudahy and its well-regarded CAD drafting program, which he believed would spark his career as an architect. Rudy, who’d just seen his father finish his college degree and earn a promotion into management, was hungry to learn.
Leveraging his natural talent, years of training, and the tutelage of coach Tom Burns (Pio Nono ’72) — one of the country’s top heavyweights in his day — Rudy flourished, wrestling varsity as a freshman before winning conference and state titles in each of the following three years. He finished his junior and senior seasons with an undefeated record.
In 1994 Rudy won the Greco-Roman national champion and was considered a strong candidate for the US Olympic Team in 1996 and beyond. A series of injuries would derail his Olympic chances but didn’t put off college recruiters.
“He had the opportunity to attend any higher education institution,” said Peter Borchardt (TM ’96), a Thomas More classmate and close friend. “Harvard, Yale, Air Force, and Stanford were just a few that were knocking on his door.”
And these universities weren’t just interested in Rudy’s athletic abilities.
Aaron Luksich (TM ’95), a wrestling teammate, recalls meeting Rudy during Honors Geometry. Aaron, a sophomore at the time, a year ahead of Rudy, remembers his classmate’s intelligence and determination.
“He was the smartest student in the class, even being a year younger than everyone else, and I’m sure that wasn’t the first or last time that happened,” said Luksich, now a school principal. “Rudy is and always has been incredibly focused and tenaciously driven.”
Borchardt, an attorney in Green Bay, complimented Rudy’s ability to befriend classmates of all backgrounds and personalities.
“Rudy has an uncanny way of including people,” Borchardt explained. “He’s an exceptional human being, classmate, friend, and athlete – and that’s an understatement.”
Offered scholarships from colleges near and far, Rudy chose Stanford, where he continued his academic and athletic success. While earning his bachelor’s degree in linguistics, he qualified twice for the NCAA tournament and was a three-time Academic All-American. Still, after graduation, he wasn’t sure what to do next.
After a year in a contract job, Rudy returned to Milwaukee and had a heart-to-heart with his mother. A former top student herself, Rudy’s mother entered the workforce immediately after graduating high school and began raising her family with Rudy Sr. She never gave up on her own education, however, earning her bachelor’s degree in 2000, the same year as Rudy.
“It’s never too late to go back to school or continue to learn,” Rudy said. “It’s something I often tell others, and I point to my parents as examples.”
With his mother’s help, Rudy realized that, with his natural ability to lead and his love of teaching others, education was a perfect career fit.
So, in 2001, he joined Milwaukee Public Schools, teaching math and computer science at Pulaski and South Division High Schools for the next eight years. He stayed busy outside the classroom, holding down simultaneous roles with Kaplan, Mount Mary, Cardinal Stritch, and Marquette Universities. He also coached wrestling at St. Thomas More, Pulaski, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and served a term on the St. Thomas More Board of Directors.
After working as an assistant principal and program coordinator for the MPS central office, in 2012, Rudy became the district’s first director of college and career readiness. He and his family moved to Baltimore in 2014, where he served in a similar role before being appointed as the chief education officer of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education in 2017.
In 2019, he joined FourPoint Education Partners, where he serves as a vice president and partner, leading the firm’s college, career, and life-readiness business in communities around the country. His clients include large school districts, corporations, municipalities, and more. Most of his job, Rudy explained, boils down to forming effective partnerships and ensuring that communities, regardless of their resources, are aware of the best and most promising educational practices.
Despite his many obligations, Rudy makes time to give back, serving as chairman of Beat the Streets – Baltimore, a wrestling program designed to provide a positive, nurturing environment to urban youth. He’s also supported efforts to prepare Baltimore high school students for careers in medicine and enhance educational opportunities for Latinos.
Asked what motivates his work, Rudy, an analytic sort, rattles off numbers. He often cites Harvard’s Opportunity Insights data project, which puts the odds of someone from Rudy’s background succeeding in the way he has at less than one percent.
“Looking at the numbers, I literally beat the odds,” he said. “So now I’m all about trying to change those odds, trying to make change happen at the system level.”
Reflecting on his time on the St. Thomas More Board of Directors, Rudy said that although he was incredibly busy professionally and personally at the time, he realized the school’s growing Latino population deserved a representative voice at the table. Today, St. Thomas More continues to serve Milwaukee’s vibrant Latino community, with approximately 50 percent of the student body identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
Rudy encourages others within the St. Thomas More community to give back however they can.
“You might not have a lot of time, money, or power, necessarily, but each of us has the ability to help a younger person in one way or another,” he said. “Everyone has something to offer.”
Now 43, Rudy still draws inspiration and forges forward by following the same pillars that have guided him throughout his life. Over a 19-month period that ended in April, 24 years after first training for the Olympic trials and with Tokyo Games on the horizon, Rudy resumed his athletic training in earnest, losing 19 pounds and logging thousands of miles with his bike and running shoes in preparation to compete once again.
He competed admirably at the Last Chance Qualifier for the Olympic Trials, scoring more than any other wrestler among his age group. He paused briefly to reflect, posting a heartfelt thank-you to family and supporters on social media…and hasn’t slowed down since.
About the Author
Will O’Brien (TM ’07) has been writing Spirit magazine stories and blog posts for St. Thomas More since spring 2019 and is a founding member of the St. Thomas More Communications Committee.
He is a Director of Corporate Reputation in the Strategic Communications division of FTI Consulting.