comments

Team dedicates season to fallen coach

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
-A +A

As Josh Ruff runs with the angels above, the Oak Ridge cross country team marches forward. They’ve dedicated this season of promise and potential to him, their fallen coach who’s never far from their thoughts.

Ruff, a personable and popular 22-year-old assistant coach on Oak Ridge’s cross country team, passed away Aug. 22 in a workplace accident. His untimely death has left a big hole on the team. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams have dedicated their season in his honor.

After graduating from Oak Ridge in 2007, Ruff studied and ran at CSU Long Beach, making key contributions to the cross country and track teams before graduating with a degree in history in 2011. He contacted Oak Ridge cross country coach Rob Fairley last summer to see if he could latch on as an assistant coach. As it turned out, coaching turned out to be a great fit for Ruff.

“He was terrific to work with and had that experience of running in high school and as a Division I athlete at Long Beach,” Fairley said. “He really wanted to learn about coaching. Because he was so personable, he cared about everybody and that made his coaching more successful. The kids responded to him. He was a terrific kid who loved people.”

Not surprisingly, Ruff made his mark in his short coaching tenure.

“Josh encouraged and influenced me to become a better runner,” said senior Zachary Thornton. “He showed me how to train better. He was fun to be around, very personable, easy to talk to and just an easy person to like.”

Ellie Velez, a sophomore on the cross country team, said Ruff made her feel like running was what she was meant to do. Senior Dusty Armstrong said in Ruff’s very short time as a coach, he impacted everyone.

“He was a coach, a teammate, a friend and an inspiration,” Armstrong said. “He is a member of our team who will never be forgotten.”

Jake Zeltner said he and his teammates were thrilled to have a young and energetic coach like Ruff, who had gone through the program at Oak Ridge and who also had the experience of running at the collegiate level.

“To dislike Josh was unheard of and his personality touched the hearts of all the teammates,” Zeltner said. “He trained us hard, but that led to us to being the first section championship boys’ team Oak Ridge ever produced and I give Josh much of the credit to our success.”

Zeltner and his teammates Sean McHone, Ryan Prestegard and Armstrong ran in last year’s California International Marathon as a relay team and named themselves “Ruff’s Pups” after their coach. That name would carry on to the track and field season, as well as this year’s cross country team.

“I can’t think about Josh and not laugh at many of the jokes that our team will now keep in our minds for as long as we live,” Zeltner said. “It made all of our days when we were running by the backyard to a house with a dog barking at us fiercely and he yelled out to the dog ‘quit saying my name!’ It may not mean much to those who weren't there, but it demonstrates his exuberant personality that we all loved so much.”

The varsity girls’ team was also tight with Ruff. In an e-mail sent to the Telegraph from the team, it reads: “Coach Ruff was one of our favorite coaches because he was so easy to relate to. Just a few years ago he was in our position as a runner at Oak Ridge. He knew the feeling of nervousness and pressure that comes from this sport. He was always the best one to talk to before and after races and knew exactly what to say. He got the pre-race jitters out, made us smile and always offered encouragement. Whether it was a good day or bad, he always helped us see the benefits and look towards the future.”

Team members weren’t the only ones that lost a friend. Assistant coaches Bob Wright and John Mansoor also feel the loss.

“I have a lot of found memories of Josh and I still think of him every day,” Wright said. “He touched a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Of the thousands of kids I’ve taught and coached over my 21 years, he was one of the rare ones that became my friend; that’s how unique a person Josh was and still is to me.”

Mansoor added, “Josh was a fun-loving kid who everyone seemed to like. When he was at Oak Ridge he was always doing crazy things which kept himself and the rest of the team loose and fun. At that time I would have never believed he would come back as a coach. When he returned he turned out to be a very good coach and quickly created a tight bond with the varsity boys. No one was happier when they captured the section title. Josh will always be remembered as a great teammate by the class of 2007 and an excellent mentor by the class of 2013.”

For the members of the cross country team, the lasting memories of Ruff will be the affect he had on their lives.

“One thing I learned from Josh was to do what you love in life,” Zeltner said. “He was young man who met the love of his life, obtained his dream job at a winery and enjoyed running with us everyday and watching us improve. I will never forget the fact that I lost a coach and a very great friend, but most importantly to me, I lost one of the only idol's that I have ever looked up to in my life where I have said to myself, ‘I want to be like him.’”

****************************************************

Josh Ruff, the athlete

Amjed Aboukhadijeh vividly remembers the morning of the state cross country meet in 2006. Aboukhadijeh, then a freshman, recalls his teammate, senior Josh Ruff, taking to the course on a warm-up run wearing a pink cowboy hat just prior to the biggest race of his life.

Oak Ridge coach Rob Fairley doesn’t remember seeing Ruff in the hat, but when told the story he didn’t doubt it for a second.

“That definitely sounds like Josh,” Fairley said with a laugh. “I’m not surprised that he was wearing a crazy outfit. He would get revved up for the big races. I definitely will remember the trips to races far away. He livened things up on those trips and really got into the big races.”

Aboukhadijeh added, “Josh was always the jokester. He had a funny personality that relaxed the team before the races.”

Ruff helped lead Oak Ridge to its best finish at the state meet in 2006, as the Trojans placed sixth that day. Ruff posted his personal-best time on the Woodward Park Course in Fresno, finishing second on the team behind Ryan Cosens in 16 minutes, 20 seconds. A few weeks earlier on Oct. 21, the Trojans competed in the Mt. Sac Invitational and won the Division II sweepstakes race, a feat that Fairley calls more impressive than the sixth-place finish at the state meet. Ruff ran third on the team that day, finishing in 16:00 behind Cosens and Josh Arrieta.

“It was one of the best races of the year,” Fairley said. “It was a sweet victory over the top teams from Southern California and I’ll never forget it.” Fairley said Ruff was a great teammate. “He was always very positive and uplifting with his teammates,” Fairley said. “If someone had a bad day or a bad week, he was sensitive to that and very good at picking them up.”

Dedications: Josh Ruff was a great assistant coach. He encouraged and influenced me to become a better cross country and track runner. He showed me how to train better. Not only that he was fun to be around, very personable, easy to talk to, and just an easy person to like. The team and I are so very sad he is gone and we really miss him.         Zachary Thornton

Josh was the best coach. It was even better cause he had just so recently been in the position many of us are in right now. Last year at one of my first races I was listening to my ‘pump up playlist.’ Josh came over and asked if I was pumped and ready to go. Me being my negative self said ‘no’ so he asked if he could see my phone. He went to YouTube and typed Nike inspirational video. He gave me back my phone and told me to watch it. "The odds may be stacked against you, but this isn't a math test, it is a completely different kind of test; one where passion trumps logic and as the old saying goes, we got ourselves a game." Nothing in my whole life, not my dad explaining the race plan, nor the rhythm and lyrics of my "pump it up" playlist had ever gotten me more ready for a race. Josh Ruff may have not been the perfect coach, but he truly made me feel like this is what I was meant to do. I dedicate my season to Josh because he changed the name of my game and my running itself. To Josh Ruff: forever will you be in my heart.         Ellie Velez

"Last year, the ORHS Cross Country team had the great pleasure to meet Josh Ruff. We were informed that he would be coaching our team the 2011/2012 cross country and track seasons and needless to say, most of us were thrilled to have a young and energetic coach that has also been through the ORHS running programs as well as experience in the collegiate level.

To dislike Josh Ruff was unheard of, and his amazing personality that touched the hearts of all the teammates was unlike any I have ever experienced in my life thus far. It is difficult to process that it has only been two weeks since my teammates and I were informed about his death on August 22, 2012. There been so much pain packed into these two weeks, at times it even seemed unbearable. But I am not writing this today to mourn the loss of Josh but to reflect on the moments in this past year where Josh has made an impact on my life. It would be nearly impossible to reflect on the what seems to be infinitely many stories that I can recall about Josh Ruff.

Now it is not often when one can remember the first time they ever see a person, but for Josh, I will now never forget that moment. It was a typical run at the Parkway in Folsom when what appeared to be a random runner passed our boys team going the opposite direction and greeted us with a bright smile and joyous "Hello!". I honestly at first thought it was strange that he seemed so pleased to see us, but it wasn't until after the run when I was then formally introduced to that same runner as our new coach, Josh Ruff.

From there, our teams relationship with him grew rapidly as he would train us hard, we would complain about him training us so hard, and then give us a surprise extra couple miles after our complaining. But of course that is what led us to be the first cross country section champions the Oak Ridge boys has ever produced and I will to this day give Josh much of the credit to our success.

In December when teammates Dusty, Sean, Ryan, and I competed in the California International Marathon as a relay team, we proudly named our team "Ruff's Pups" as he was our team captain for the race and that name we coined has stuck with us and has been a nickname for the boys team for nearly nine months now.

In the spring for track season, he was there coaching me to my best season I have had yet and I can remember him attending nearly every race and hearing him support me each and every grueling lap I raced. It was this summer of training when I would talk to him and we would both heavily look forward to this upcoming year as it is shaping to become our best yet. It is beyond depressing to realize that he will not know how well we will compete this year but I can at least assure myself that whatever goals I accomplish this year at the races will be for Josh.

One thing that really stands out for me as far as Josh as a person is the fact that I cannot think about him and not laugh at many of the jokes that our team will now keep in our minds for as long as we live. Due to his last name of course, it made all of our days when we were running by the backyard to a house with a dog barking at us fiercely and he yelled out to the dog "quit saying my name!" It may not mean much to those who weren't there with us, but I can hope that people understand what that means to us as well as demonstrates his exuberant personality that we all loved so much.

I am extremely proud of my team in these last couple weeks in supporting each other through this time. It is hard to admit that something good could come out of this but there is no doubt in my mind that the team has never been this connected before and we really feel like a tight family.

Our boys varsity team will proudly wear arm sweatbands dedicated to Josh Ruff every race this year in honor of the time we had him as a coach. My heart goes out to everyone who also knew Josh outside of my team, and especially to Rachel, his fiancé, since the boys varsity team were expecting to attend his wedding on September 8, 2012.

Death is a fact of life that most people will have to unfortunately deal with at some point or another in their life, but I can for sure say that I never expected a person at my age to go through this, especially since Josh was so close to my age.

The hardest challenge one may face in a lifetime is overcoming someone's death who was dear to them, but it’s yet necessary to keep living life to the fullest. That was one thing that I especially learned from Josh was to do what you love in life. He was young man who met the love of his life, obtained his dream job at a winery, and enjoyed running with us everyday and watching us grow up to be even more than we were ever before. It is true and I will never forget the fact that I lost a coach, a very great friend, but most importantly to me, I lost one of the only idol's that I have ever looked up to in my life where I have said to myself "I want to be like him", but I can now say that I will use everything I could have learned from his this past year to make myself be the best person possible. I feel like this goes without saying, but yet it comforts me to say it; for as long as I live, I will never forget Joshua David Ruff.                 Jake Zeltner

Josh was a fun-loving kid who everyone seemed to like. When he was an athlete at Oak Ridge he worked hard to make himself into a good runner and helped our boys’ team finish sixth in the state. He was always doing crazy things which kept himself and the rest of the team loose and fun.

At that time I would never have believed he would come back as a coach. At Long Beach Josh continue to improve as an athlete and really stepped up his training to have an impact at the D1 level. Running 100 miles a week was evidence of Josh's determination while at the same time he continued to maintain his fun loving ways. His Long Beach teammates voted him Most Inspirational Athlete.

When Josh graduated from Long Beach he returned to OR with the desire to coach. While I was unsure at first that Josh could lead young athletes, he turned out to be a very good coach and being closer to the athletes in age quickly created a tight bond with the varsity boys’ team. Nicknaming them Ruff's Pups, no one was happier when those boys captured the D1 Section Cross Country title last fall.

Josh ran a lot with the boys and as all runner's know there is a unique bond that is formed with your training partners. You suffer along with them and this effort brings all closer together. Losing a training partner is especially hard on young athletes going through this for the first time. While I am certain that the lessons learned through distance running will carry the boys team through this fall, Josh will always be remembered as a great teammate by the class of 2007 and a excellent mentor by the class of 2013.              John Mansoor

Josh meant a ton to everyone who got to know him. After a very short time of coaching he had impacted everyone of our boys. He was a coach. He was a teammate. He was a friend. And he is an inspiration. Josh Ruff is a member of our team who will never be forgotten.     Dusty Armstrong

I have a lot of fond memories about the young man and still expect him to be walking through the door so to speak at anytime. I was just thinking about calling him yesterday to give him a hard time and tell him that already, based on the way the preseason went, the Raiders have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Funny how those desires to contact ones that we love remain with us. Sure, they fade with time, but they obviously haven't yet.

I still think of Josh every day and try to square up his untimely death in such a way that will allow me to move forward peacefully. My young family helps a lot with that, as they keep my busy, but I still come back to him pretty often in my own private way. He touched a lot of people in his short time with us in a lot of different ways.

At his service, outside of his family, it seemed that those impacted the most recently by him were mostly young people, closer in age to him. Adults too, but there were very few of us older folks that got to see him and work with him on a daily basis.

For me, as an official member of the older group, the endearing part I will never forget is that it was impossible to stay mad at him for any length of time. Now, I have to say, to preempt this... I have very few recollections of really ever being irritated or mad at the child while he was at Oak Ridge. With that being said, he was my student for two years, my TA for one, and my athlete during his freshman and sophomore seasons while at OR. During that time, he may have ditched a workout on occasion, not done a homework assignment once in a while or stapled a class set of papers backwards as my TA, as kids will clearly do, but just when that feeling of irritation was rising, he always had a disarming smile, and a good, genuine nature about him that quickly made you forget why you were irritated with him in the first place. He was one of the rare ones that could do this.

Of the literally thousands of kids I have taught and coached over my 21 years, he was also one of the rare ones that became my friend. There have maybe been 5 or 6 of these kinds of kids that fall into this category for me, that's how unique a person Josh was and still is to me. I still have the invitation to his wedding sitting on my kitchen counter, - I'm not quite ready to let that go, it just doesn't seem right yet. Looking at this last sentence again, clearly, I haven't been able to square up his death just yet in my own mind. Way too early in my opinion for one of the good guys in our lives to leave us.                   Bob Wright

Coach Ruff was one of our favorite coaches because he was so easy to relate to. Just a few years ago he was in our position as a runner at Oak Ridge; he knew the feeling of nervousness and pressure that comes from this sport. He was always the best one to talk to before and after races and knew exactly what to say. He got the pre-race jitters out, made us smile, and always offered encouragement. Whether it was a good day or bad, he always helped us see the benefits and look towards the future. Without him there in our final races of track I honestly can't say if I would of done as well. You lived as an inspiration to us all and we will never forget that. We're going to miss you so much this 2012/2013 season and are running in your memory.                    Love forever and always, the girls cross country team.