GORHAM — The medical exam complete, the doctor told his patient what not to do: no running and especially, no jumping. Jamie Ruginski blinked.
To his ears at that moment in April, the words sounded like he might as well not breathe.
Ruginski is a jumper, a two-time national champion, not that Americans pay much attention to track and field anymore. He’s a 23-year-old business major at the University of Southern Maine, the kid with the easy grin who grew up in nearby Buxton.
He’s also the maturing adult who learned that in life, you’ve got more than one chance to make good. You get six in the field events at a track meet. Just make sure you don’t foul on your last attempt.
Ruginski followed his doctor’s advice and won a second national championship last weekend. He finally followed the advice of USM Athletic Director Al Bean one year ago to earn the rewards that now are his.
Ruginski didn’t take USM’s code of conduct seriously a year ago. He was in trouble with Bean. More importantly, he was in trouble with himself and teammates.
“One day I looked around and didn’t like where I was,” said Ruginski. “I was letting my teammates and my coach down. I had to realize you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.”
Ruginski won’t specify what rules he broke last year and Bean can’t. “A lot of people said I’d never amount to anything and gave up on me,” said Ruginski. He decided not to give up on himself.
In March he won the NCAA Division III national championship in the triple jump indoors. USM never before had a national champ in track.
Next up was the NCAA outdoor meet May 24. Winning another title would be Ruginski’s first encore. He had expectations. He had a problem, too. His body was paying for the success of his indoor season. He could no longer ignore the pain in his groin. A partial muscle tear wouldn’t stop barking at him.
Ibuprofen dulled the throbbing so he could forget and concentrate on his form. The sprint down the runway, and the hop and skip and jump into the sand pit takes long seconds, not minutes. You need a clear mind for maximum effort, as in most stressful actions.
Ruginski placed second in the Little East Conference meet April 27. He didn’t like losing.
Ruginski saw the doctor, followed the advice and was fresh, if worried when he left with teammates and Coach Steve Virgilio for the national championships at Ohio Wesleyan before the Memorial Day weekend. He had stayed out of the jump pit for about a month. He feared he lost his edge.
Ruginski told his mother he didn’t know if anything good would come out of his performance. He went into this NCAA meet ranked fourth among the 20 competitors. He held the top ranking at the indoor meet.
His mother is one of his biggest fans but he told her to stay home. He has an indoor season and an outdoor left of eligibility. There will be other big meets. She remained in Maine.
Ruginski won the national title in the triple jump by about a foot. He was second in the long jump. The top eight finishers in each event are All-Americans. When Ruginski took his place atop the podium for the photo of the triple jump finishers, he didn’t try to mask his emotions.
He wore a wide smile. He thought he could hear his mother cheering.
Bean, with the USM baseball team in Appleton, Wisconsin, for the NCAA championships, tweeted his congratulations to Ruginski. Bean made sure he left enough characters to include his final word: Awesome.
Ruginski is in a relationship with Nicole Kirk, a sprinter on USM’s women’s track team. She was a state champion at Scarborough High. She’s more than a second chance to him.
He’s mended relationships with some teammates. Others, he said, “are still down on me. That was the hardest part, letting them down.”
Ruginski was on his way to his summer job with a cell phone service provider when we talked. He didn’t mind sitting for a photo in the sand in the jump pit wearing his dress pants and shoes.
He asked if he had time to run back to his car to get his toy cars and trucks.
He has new goals: More national titles. His college degree. A spot in the Olympic trials.
“It really came down to me looking in the mirror. I want to be remembered for something I did that was good.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: