Goss: Ruettiger perfect fit for fitness hall
February 29, 2012 9:08PM
Joliet Catholic coach Francis “Rudy” Ruettiger (left) will be inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in April. | File photo
Updated: April 2, 2012 8:34AM
When Dan Sharp became football coach at Joliet Catholic in 1997, he knew where to turn on his alumni list for advice.
“I talked with Tommy Thayer and asked him if there was anything he thought needed addressing right away,” Sharp said. “His comment was we need an organized strength program.
“I asked if he had any suggestions, and he said, ‘Call Francis Ruettiger.’ He said he would not have had the career he had with Notre Dame and the Bears if not for Francis.”
Sharp asked, and Ruettiger, the local powerlifting and fitness guru, agreed to become the Hilltoppers’ strength and conditioning coach. Thus began another golden era for the state’s most successful program.
Ruettiger owns and operates Rudy’s Gym, which began in his garage in 1974 and now is housed in an expansive facility in Shorewood. The list of athletes who have called Rudy’s their second home reads like a “Who’s Who” of Joliet area sports.
In addition to Thayer, Ruettiger rattled off some big names including his brothers Mark and Bernie Ruettiger: Terry Gannon, Scott Parzych, John Ivlow, Walter Downing, Tavaras Hardy, Rob Ninkovich, Coby Fleener, John Ruettiger, Joe Benson. All of them, and hundreds of others, readily admit they owe much of their athletic success to Ruettiger.
Members of several local high school football teams, not only Joliet Catholic, regularly train at Rudy’s. Each July, for nearly three decades, the gym has sponsored a high school football powerlifting competition as the unofficial kickoff to the football season.
“Every kid in that gym tells a story,” Ruettiger said. “The powerlifters I have had have done very well in athletics. But the best thing is how they conduct themselves in life. They are absolutely great people.”
Ruettiger, 57, is a detective with the Joliet Police Department, and he combines the best of both worlds there. “I’m still on our SWAT team and take care of fitness for the SWAT team,” he said.
He also practices what he teaches. He holds multiple national and world lifting records.
“That just came from hard work,” he said. “To this day I still learn on the job, working with people and getting them educated on their health.”
What Ruettiger has accomplished is exactly what the National Fitness Hall of Fame, based in Glendale Heights, recognizes annually. He is among the five who will be inducted as the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 in ceremonies April 29 at Glendale Lakes Golf Club.
Tickets are $45 until March 15, $65 after that. Checks can be mailed to the National Fitness Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 520, Minooka, IL 60447. Information is available at (630) 865-5512 or by visiting www.NationalFitnessHallofFame.com.
“This is pretty big because it’s recognition by my peers in the fitness industry, which I have been involved in most of my life,” Ruettiger said.
“In 2009 I was voted one of the top trainers in the country, which was another nice award. But this one is big. There are some really big names in fitness in this Hall of Fame.”
The late Jack LaLanne was a 2005 inductee. Television superstar Gilad Janklowicz will accept the Lifetime Achievement Award for LaLanne at this year’s induction banquet.
The success of the Joliet Catholic football merely is one shining example of Ruettiger’s influence.
“I really believe the hard work Francis did with our kids was the difference maker in the championships we won,” said Sharp, whose team won five state titles in a six-season span from 1999 to 2004 and was a state runner-up twice in the past three seasons. “It’s not only physical strength, but it’s the mental toughness and the love the kids have for coach Rudy.
“He has worked with kids from a variety of sports, not just football. It’s amazing to think he built that all from his garage. The camaraderie among those who go to the gym is evident from the alums when they come back.
“Look at Rob Ninkovich. Here’s a guy who played in the Super Bowl (as a starting linebacker with New England). He can’t sing Rudy’s praises enough. He’ll be there running and lifting with the kids during the offseason.”
Sharp’s son Danny is among those who lifted regularly at Rudy’s.
“My son says you always felt confident that you were stronger and in better shape than your opponents because of lifting at Rudy’s,” Sharp said. “But it’s also important that what he teaches becomes a way of life after you leave school.”
Ruettiger worked through the era when drug use was common among aspiring athletes.
“Back in the day, it wasn’t illegal and there was a lot of peer pressure,” he said. “You were competing against guys who were taking stuff they shouldn’t be.
“Nowadays, kids are doing it without drugs. They are getting the education that you don’t need the drugs that guys used to live on. There’s a lot more to emphasize about proper nutrition.”
Athletes get the message. They come to Rudy’s Gym from throughout the area and heed his warning: “If they want to come here, they have no choice but to work hard.”
The Hall of Famer demands it.