ORLANDO, Fla. - Gonzalo Ruiz is no stranger to overcoming obstacles.
- Played juniors in Fort Myers
- Grew up in Spain before moving to Austria at 15
- Joined UCF hockey during fall semester
“Throughout life, I’ve been facing adversity where things haven’t been easy for me," the 22-year-old said. "And I’ve always had to find a way to succeed and make myself wind up being the winner in the story, I guess.”
Ruiz lives in Orlando now, but his roots trace back to Madrid. He was born in Spain, and as a child, found what could be considered an unnatural calling for those from the area.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to really know what they want to do with their life. And I feel like at a young age, I realized what I wanted to do," he said. "And I was going all forward for it.”
It began at a childhood birthday party, located at an ice rink. He saw a group of guys trying to shoot a puck into a net. He was hooked.
“They look at you like, 'you should play soccer. Spanish people are not meant to play hockey.' And I’ve always had to fight against that,” Ruiz said.
Growing up in Spain, Ruiz found it difficult to develop his game. When it came to hockey, resources were slim.
“There’s not that many rinks," he said. "There’s probably seven to eight rinks in the whole country. And our closest drive to play a game was probably four hours.”
At times he would travel up to 13 hours just to play a set of games. Ultimately, he and his family decided it was time for him to play somewhere that would be more practical and could set him up for success. He would move to Austria at 15, and then head to the United States at 18 to play in a couple of junior leagues. Thousands of miles from home, he knew in order to play at the highest level, this was the path he would need to take.
“Hockey was always my dream, my passion, everything that I lived for. I didn’t hang out with my friends, or went to birthday parties. I decided to go to practice. Social decisions in life that make you who you are. And I wanted to be a hockey player,” he said.
Ruiz would evenutally make his way to Framingham State in Mass. to play Division III hockey. But before he would ever see game action, he would tear multiple ligaments in his knee and break his leg in a collision with a teammate in practice.
“It made me find different ways to succeed," he said. "There’s not just one way in life. There’s always different doors to open. And I had to realize it was my time to open a different door at that time.”
That door brought him to the University of Central Florida. He would sign up to play for the Division III independent hockey squad last semester, and has found his way in to a program that is still building it's hockey culture. It's a situation he knows well from his days in Spain.
“I would want our team to grow as much as possible, because hockey is something that really pushed me through my life, and made me become who I am. And anytime I can see hockey grow and me be a part of it will make me happy.”
So even though he may not play professionally one day, this kid from Spain has made it his mission to live out his dream and play a game people told him he had no business participating in. Simply put, he has no regrets.
“I wanted to give everything I had to try and be who I wanted to be," the junior said. "And I don’t regret any decision I made, because it’s made me improve in many different ways personally and socially, and I can’t be more happy with how it played out in my life.”