Olympic motivational speaker Ruben Gonzalez

Jonathan Edwards at Salt Lake City Olympic Opening Ceremonies

There are several definitions of character. One definition is how you act when no one is looking at you. Another definition of character is: how do you treat people who could not possibly help you in any way?

How you treat people who cannot help you says a lot about you. Do you ignore them? Do you walk over them? Or do you encourage them and help them out?

What difference does it make? It makes a huge difference. Character is a big part of leadership because people are more likely follow and trust you if you are a person of character. They will want to develop long-term relationships with you. If you’re in sales (and by the way, everyone is in sales), they will buy more often and buy more product from you. Your whole quality of life improves if you are a person of character.

The 2002 luge season was a tough one for me. All season long I was plagued with injuries that made it hard for me to get into any kind of good rhythm. My injuries made it hard for me to focus as much as I needed to and, consequently, my sliding was very sloppy.

I compensated by playing it safe. By taking less risks down the track and, as a result, I didn’t crash once during the regular season. That sounds like a good thing, but, really, it’s not. You see, by taking very safe lines down the track, my times were very slow. I needed to take more risks. Especially on training runs where you have an opportunity to try out different lines to find the best ones to use on race day.

With a couple of weeks left in the season, I bet Coach that if I made it through the season and through the Olympics without crashing, he needed to buy me a new speed-suit. That was a big mistake on my part. Instead of focusing on not crashing, I should have been focusing on getting better race times. As Coach agreed on the bet, he had one of those funny smiles that told me he knew something I didn’t know.

Somehow, I made it through the regular season without any crashes. Now we’re at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Ten runs to go: six training runs and the four Olympic runs.
In 2002, the Salt Lake City Track was the fastest in the world. Top speeds of eighty five miles per hour. The track was in unbelievable condition for the Olympics. Luge tracks are bumpy. They look smooth on TV but when you’re sliding, it feels like you’re racing a pickup truck down a dirt road. You usually have a splitting headache after just one run, and, later, must face taking several more runs.

The Salt Lake Olympic track was different. Someone told me the track workers had actually smoothed the ice with acetylene torches. The ice felt like glass. I was taking my first training run and it did not even feel like the luge. The run felt like a different sport. I was thinking, “This feels so great… so smooth… so good… so…” Instead of focusing on how well prepared the ice was, I should have been focusing on making it down the track.


Without any warning, I had one of the worst crashes of my career. I didn’t even see it coming. It caught me completely off guard. For the first time in my life I was completely disoriented. I remember seeing the sky twice and hitting the bottom of the track twice. The whole time thinking, “Please, God, don’t let me brake any bones! I’m racing in the Olympics in two days!”

Thank goodness, I didn’t break anything. But for the next two days, whenever I went to the bathroom, there was blood in my urine. It scared me to death but I didn’t dare go see the doctors because they would surely have scratched me from the race. (After the race, the Doctor examined me and determined that I had bruised my kidneys. No big deal.)

Unfortunately, my sled was a mess. The steel runners were gouged and scratched so badly that I didn’t think I would not be able to fix them in time for the race. The medics picked me up and drove me back to the Men’s Start House at the top of the mountain.

I walked into the start house holding my sled. My face must have been ashen because all the other athletes there looked at me and starting mumbling in different languages. Then, something incredible happened. Jonathan Edwards walked right up to me, took a look at my sled, and said, “Give me thirty minutes and a file and I’ll have your steels looking like new.”

I didn’t even know Jonathan Edwards! Jonathan had competed for the U.S. Team in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. In Salt Lake City Jonathan was coaching the Bermuda Luge Team.

Jonathan had nothing to gain from helping me. He helped me because he has a big heart; he’s a person of character; a person who is genuinely interested in helping other people out. He’s just a terrific guy. Jonathan got me out of a terrible situation. He just showed up out of nowhere. Kind of like a guardian Angel.

It’s very unusual to find someone like that. You want to be around people like that. What if we all strived to be a little bit more like Jonathan? Would we have more influence over everyone we meet? Would the world be a better place?

Character counts. Big time!


Olympic Motivational Speaker Ruben Gonzalez