JUST TRUST: How Justin Ruiz Has Approached Becoming Greco GM

justin ruiz, usa greco-roman gm
Justin Ruiz -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Even if one’s hippocampus isn’t quite what it used to be, reflecting back on the summer and fall of 2022 should not require much brain energy. Anyone with a cursory understanding of the United States Greco-Roman program can easily remember the turbulence, the rumors, the bitterness, the confusion. Turnover is never pleasant, not really, and the nature in which it all materialized was at the very least both unsettling and unsavory. Broken bones heal faster than broken trust. A hard but invaluable lesson to learn. For all of us.

not all roads lead to gold, jim gruenwald

It was still a swirling storm of chaos once the winter arrived. A prolonged breath-hold. Place was a wreck, but, oh wow, did plenty pretend otherwise. Thing is, the concept of “damage control” is fictitious. No one controls damage, the best they can do is attempt to mitigate it. You ever hear the phrase “the damage is done”? The adage works because it is objectively true. Control, as it were, only exists in response to said damage.

Relationships between athletes and coaches — and relationships between the athletes and USA Wrestling — had become tantamount to shredded rope. Frayed and weakened, held together by a tenuous, begrudged necessity for mutual involvement. This is what happened. It deserved to happen, given the circumstances. And when personnel moves were being discussed, and then later implemented, in an effort for the organization to somehow create the faintest sense of stability, few retained confidence in the idea that the ship could ever be righted once again.

Until Justin Ruiz, unexpectedly, stepped onto the deck and assumed the helm as General Manager.

Ruiz is going to succeed as GM because, in part, he admits to having dealt with “a mess” upon his arrival. So, that’s #1. Can’t fix problems unless we all agree that there are, in fact, problems. Ruiz’s concession that relationships within the Greco-Roman program had been fractured instantaneously separates him from those who in months past stubbornly insisted on the opposite. This very topic is what he identified as his top priority soon after walking in the door.

It had also been the most glaring issue in the wake of the summer and fall. Relationships are the life’s blood of wrestling. Most people sort of understand that. But within the confines of American Greco-Roman wrestling, relationships are by and large how the style survives. Torch one dynamic, and the fallout will generate a rippling effect, especially when factions arise inside of what is already a very small community. Ruiz understood that the program could not and would not move forward by resorting to simplistic jingoism and up-selling some micigoss about improved training plans. None of that would have mattered, and all of it would have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, he made it his mission to repair interpersonal connections, though that’s not the word he uses. More appropriately, perhaps, Ruiz prefers to say “heal”, which rings with accuracy since what he had heard and encountered could better be likened to a series of wounds.

There are other reasons why Ruiz is in the right place at the right time.

His career as a competitor, helpful it is for casuals in terms of credibility, speaks for itself. Along with having earned World bronze in ’05 and a Pan-American Games title two years hence, he gradually morphed into becoming an athlete-leader, someone to whom others could look pertaining to work ethic, character, and conduct. Ruiz the wrestler was one of the nation’s most well-known commodities. And as alluded to in the conversation, dichotomistic in his attributes. Outside of competitive concerns, he was, is, the type of person about whom others would declare, He never has a bad word to say about anybody, and no one has a bad word to say about him. Just…nice. Kind. A great speaker but an even better listener. On the mat, however, he was the picture of effective aggression. At times, savagely so.

Having been a high-level competitor has thus provided Ruiz with a high level of knowledge when it comes to investing and leveraging resources. He wields an intimate understanding of what the athletes require because he walked the walk and lived to tell the tale. More importantly, his Greco-Roman achievements were logged in similar surroundings. It is not as though he is from a bygone era. At 43, Ruiz is not quite so far-removed from the landscape, even if it is fair to observe that the landscape has changed.

But what hasn’t changed are the optics. We’re still talking about Greco in the US, after all. The most participated, popular, and hyper-competitive style of wrestling on the planet is a difficult-enough proposition; trying to attain success in this discipline whilst travailing the various challenges and hangups that which are unique to the American program is often presented as even more of an uphill battle. If favorable momentum towards a return to star-spangled success is plausible, then the athletes need a leader who will hear their pleas, address their needs, and work to ensure that each and every decision made is in their best interests. They could also use someone in a prominent role who is here if for no other reason than the fact that love is serving as the primary motivator. Not ego, not money, not the opportunity to be seen a little more in public settings.

What the program needs in a top leadership position is someone like Justin Ruiz and they should be thankful that is exactly who they’ve got.

5PM Interview with Justin Ruiz

5PM: At the (Olympic & Paralympic) Training Center, currently you have Cheney Haight and Ismael Borrero Molina working together and coaching. How have they been functioning? What have you liked about the way they go about doing things?

Justin Ruiz: Having Cheney and Borrero has been awesome. I like Cheney. I’ve known him for a long time and have worked with him in the past. He is very knowledgeable about wrestling. He’s very technical, so there are a lot of good things there with him. As for Borrero, he has been doing a good job. His language has been coming along in terms of picking up English and communicating with the guys. Just watching Borrero, he has some tweaks that he makes and is very no-nonsense when it comes to his mentality. He is like, Hey guys, this is hard but this is the path. You’re going to have to train a lot and get a lot of repetitions. You are just going to have to put in the work to get the results you want. It’s not going to be easy.

I think they complement each other well. There is a give-and-take that they have with certain guys. We also have Ike Anderson, who volunteers, as well. We have those three guys working together running practices. I feel like the athletes respond well to them. The athletes respect the coaches. They seem like they communicate well with them, at least most of the guys do. I mean, we do have a pretty young squad out at the Training Center. I’m pretty happy with how things are working out so far for the coaches and the guys who are there training underneath them.

5PM: Former competitors, as in those who are retired from what we’ll call the “previous generation”, if they have one critique with regards to the current generation, it is that they feel today’s Greco-Roman athletes are too reliant on coaches and training plans instead of taking more ownership of their careers. Do you agree with this perceived consensus, that the current base of USA athletes needs to take their careers in their own hands a little more?

Ruiz: It’s hard to say when you have one generation judging another generation. We have hard-working guys, and what you are going to see is that there are some guys who are taking that accountability to where they are doing the extra work. I think it is more that when the guys figure out that level of responsibility, it is not so much that they have to figure out their own training plans and training regimen, or that they have to figure everything out on their own. I think instead that you have to use the resources around you with coaches, with training plans that they have, and with the opportunities that are presented.

What I’ve seen from my own career, and you also see this with the guys who are competing now, is that it comes down to the guys who are putting in the extra work. Whether that is getting there early before practice, staying later after practice, dialing in their nutrition, becoming meticulous about their strength training, or whatever the case may be. I think it comes down to the individuals who are understanding that, Hey, it is going to take more than just what the coaches are asking of me. Those are the ones who are going to succeed. When I was wrestling, as in during my generation, there were guys who I would see staying after practice. I’d see Brad Vering, I’d see TC Dantzler… I would see these guys staying after practice to work on things and get better, and then they would go on to have favorable results in competition. Then you had other guys who might have been in the middle of the pack and once practice was over, they were hitting the showers and moving on to other parts of their lives.

So, I don’t know if it is fair to paint an entire generation with that brush and say, Oh, they don’t know what they’re doing. I think that is always the critique from an older generation to the next. These kids who are up-and-coming are smart. They have access to a lot of resources that we didn’t have. I think the ones who are able to tap into that are going to be able to really excel. Take video, for example. The opportunity to watch high-level wrestling and see competitions, to check out techniques and all of these different things is way different from when I was coming up. I remember making my first Senior World Team and you had this VHS cassette that you watched over and over and over again because that was all you had. Nowadays, you have FLOWrestling, UWW (United World Wrestling), YouTube… You have access to being able to watch so much more video and become exposed to different strategies and techniques.

I think in past generations that they were able to take a little more responsibility just because they didn‘t have the same resources. Maybe they didn’t have partners or a dedicated coach. By default, your environment is going to force you to do certain things. One thing that I used to take for granted — and at the time it felt like kind of a burden — was that during my wrestling career it seemed as though they were changing the rules all the time. Right? Like, Oh, here’s this clinch and then, no, Here’s this other clinch… Here’s forced par terre and what it’s going to look like… In the moment, you are thinking, Oh my gosh, they keep changing the rules and this is a disadvantage. But what I notice now is that those rules forced us to improve in a lot of different positions. Now you have some guys who don’t spend a lot of time in different positions because they haven’t been forced to. Like the over/under clinch. That was something we had to learn because it was part of every match, whereas now you don’t get to that position a whole lot unless you want to go there. I just think there are things that change because the rules do.

But getting back to the point, I think that there are guys who are trying to do the best they know how when it comes to taking their careers into their own hands. At the same time, they are also taking advantage of what’s available to them. One thing they have not been as fortunate with is travel. When I was competing, it seemed like you traveled a lot more. We were overseas more. We had more domestic tournaments, as well. There were just a lot more opportunities. I think that, sometimes, an older generation can critique a younger generation with, Oh, back in my day, I had to walk to school uphill in the snow and it was five miles each way. Right? Maybe there is some merit to what people are saying, but I feel like we have a good group of guys who are hungry to learn and want to win — and when there are opportunities, they are trying to take advantage of them. That’s what I see.

5PM: When I’ve had to talk about you or describe you to others, one thing I usually bring up is the dichotomy of your personality. As a competitor, I tend to use the word “vicious” pertaining to you. Like, totally vicious when we harken back to our style during that era. Meanwhile, off the mat you are very kind, cerebral, and empathetic. How do you bring these attributes to the table in such a prominent leadership role for our program?

Ruiz: I think in terms of the competitive side, it is trying to instill that in other guys. With the position that I’m in now, I have the benefit of hindsight. I know what it is like to go through a wrestling career. I accomplished some of my goals, and there were other goals that I didn’t accomplish. And those goals that I didn’t accomplish, it still bothers me (laughs). You want to give guys the opportunity to realize that this is a short period of time that they have. Your career will go faster than you think it will. In the middle of your career, you think that it will last forever. It is about helping them realize that you only have so many miles on your competitive career, so be intense about your training and be intense about your competition. Really put everything into your career that you can because, again, it is limited. Put that intensity into your training and in your competitions. It is not common for athletes to achieve all of their goals, right? There are very few who end up at the top of the podium all the time, or every time that they want. But by putting everything you can into your career, you can be satisfied with it.

I think where empathy comes in is just realizing and having a sense of what it is those guys are going through. Yeah, it’s hard. Wrestling is a hard sport. It is going to be challenging. Competition is going to be challenging, training is going to be challenging. Living away from home is challenging, and then a lot of guys financially have to deal with that. There are so many different structures of life that you have to deal with in addition to training, competing, and trying to be the best. I want to help them be aggressive with our goals and with our plans, but at the same time be empathetic to what they are going through. Like, Hey guys, I know this isn’t easy. Because, it’s not easy. It is competitive, and the athletes you are competing against are tough, as well.

I also think having the hindsight from interacting with a coach and asking, What did this coach do that I liked? And then saying, Okay, let’s do more of that. And, What did this coach do that didn’t like? Okay, try to do less of that. I think you have to have a balance. That’s life. That’s relationships; and depending on how deep the relationship is, sometimes you can push a little harder, and other times you can’t until you have trust built. It’s like with your kids. With kids, they are the most forgiving people out there. I know that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes as a parent, but they tend to come back and love you no matter what. But sometimes you do push a little more because you have high expectations for them. You want them to succeed, you want them to excel. But at the end of the day, what’s important is having that relationship.

Within the context of wrestling, there were coaches who I really respected. The ones for whom I had respect, I tended to value their opinions more and do more of what they told me. Whereas with coaches who I didn’t respect, I tended to not listen as much to what they had to say, even if what they had to say might have been good advice. Now with this role, I see it as, Build the relationship — and once you have that trust, it is a lot easier to work together and help each other achieve our goals.

ruiz 2005 world bronze

5PM: What was it about the timing that synced up between your career in the mortgage loan industry and more importantly your family life that opened the door for you to join USA Wrestling?

Justin Ruiz: The fundraising role had opened up and (Steve) Fraser called me. He had told me, I’m retiring, this role has opened in case you’re interested. It didn’t jump out at me after that first conversation. Then I thought about it and was like, You know, that’d be cool, to be able to work in wrestling again, take my skill-set from other industries and apply them towards wrestling, and be able to help athletes. I looked at it as being able to help raise money so that they could get overseas more and compete more, and bring other training partners over here. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like it wouldn’t hurt to throw my hat into the ring. I ended up applying, went through the interview process, and got the job offer.

It was something that my wife and I talked about pretty in-depth. We prayed about it and felt like it was the right move. We told the kids what was going on. They weren’t real happy about it but they kind of accepted it over time. It has been an adjustment moving to Colorado, bringing the family… It is a different culture from the one we were in, but I think it’s fine. It is good for my kids. My family has had to come together because of it. The kids get along. I mean, they still fight, right? They’re kids. But they have gotten along a lot better since we’ve moved here. They pay more attention to each other. It has brought our family even closer together. Which, has been good. But I’m not going to say that it has been easy because it has also been a challenge.

It was just one of those things where I thought, Mortgages will always be there. That’s not something that is going away. But these opportunities don’t come up everyday. That is why we thought, Let’s do it. So, here we are. I was on the fundraising path and then shortly after that, the same month in which I got hired, Ivan quit. It was actually right before I was getting my family loaded up to drive out here and I got a call from Rich (Bender). He was with the whole executive team. The first thing he asked me was, “Are you sitting down?” And it’s like, No — should I be? He said, “Yeah, why don’t you sit down.” So I went, Okay, I’m going to put you on speaker with my wife, too. He said that was fine.

I had just returned from the freestyle World Cup, so my first reaction was, Did I do something to insult someone? What did I do at the World Cup that would have the executive team calling me? Are they going to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to work out’? I was just racking my brain trying to go through all of the conversations I had at the World Cup. I didn’t know. I thought that the event had went pretty well, I had some good conversations with people, and other things were pretty vanilla. I didn’t think there was anything contentious from it that would merit a sit-down. You know, like, Hey, sit down. We have something to tell you.

And then they said, “You’ve done a god job so far with what we can see. We know you before from when you were an athlete to now working in this role and having gone through the interview process. Working with you, we think that you would be a good fit for the GM position.” Then they asked me to step into that role. I mean, I was excited. I thought my job was awesome before but it went up a level because now I could be that much more involved with the athletes. Of course, I played it cool. Okay, I’ll talk it over with my wife, think about it, and get back to you — even though inside I was like, Heck yeah! (Laughs)

I then told them I was interested and we got set up after Christmas break. We started in January, switched over to that role, and have been doing that ever since. It has been pretty cool. It has been really cool. It is a dream job. I don’t know what else to say other than that.

5PM: What is it like coming into the program following two high-profile exits in Matt Lindland, who you obvious know well — and Ivan, who you also know well?

Justin Ruiz: When I saw that Ivan had the (GM) role, I was like, Oh, great. He’s a great fit, I think he’s going to do a great job. And then when Matt was out, that surprised me. Then it surprised me even more that Ivan quit shortly after. Stepping into the role, those were big shoes to fill from the two of them, but I feel like we have good athletes and I just want to help them get opportunities. Opportunities like the ones I had, or even better opportunities than I had. That’s what I’m trying to do.

So far, I feel like things have gone well. I wouldn’t say that it has been perfect, but nothing ever is. There is always room for improvement. Some of the relationships that were heavily-strained because of those staffing changes, we’ve been able to work through them. A lot of that is from having a great team, like having Herb (House), Cheney, and Borrero. Having that team together has instilled trust in our athletes as well as in some of our donors and other key people who are helping the Greco movement.

5PM: Prior to all this, you had over the years had some chances to work with Senior athletes here and there, and just in general you have been plugged into the program. If I remember, you even participated in one of the Olympic camps that (John) Bardis had a couple of years ago.

Ruiz: Yeah, I went out to that camp. It was down in Alpharetta (Georgia). That was a cool experience. I thought it was cool that all of the teams were there together. It was nice to be out there with the Greco Team and the coaches. It was a lot of fun.

5PM: Once you did start to take on the GM responsibilities, what did you see as the primary items in need of correction?

Ruiz: I think the first thing was just mending relationships. That was the big thing. It was messy. I don’t know a better way to describe it. It was just messy. One thing that helped was having Herb there just because he has been around for so long as a volunteer, so he had a lot of insights as to what had been going on, where things were, and how some of those relationships were being strained. So, I think the first order of business was to work on trying to heal those. It is about taking time, imparting effort, and building trust. Because of that, I think that we’re getting buy-in from athletes, from coaches, from donors and supporters. That has been one of the keys, to work on having strong relationships and helping the guys trust us and trust in the coaches. And also, trust in each other and having expectations for each other.

I think that’s one thing that I benefited from with having strong relationships. We had a lot of guys out in Colorado Springs when I was wrestling. That was the hub. We had the Army, we had all of the residents (at the Olympic Training Center), Air Force had a team, and there were just a lot of guys. All of the weight classes were stacked pretty heavily to where you had a lot of workout partners and you were going to practice training with those guys who you were also competing against. But at the same time, you didn’t shy away from those guys. You were working together and, at the end of the day, everyone got better.

I think that if we are able to keep working on these relationships and building that trust, it will be a better result for the guys because they are going to have more training and competitive opportunities. Everyone will grow together. It is hard to succeed in a vacuum. But yes, relationships were messy and we’ve worked hard on trying to improve those.

5PM: There are a few coaches with whom you had been competitive contemporaries. Spenser Mango and Andy Bisek come to mind, and there is also Zac Dominguez. There are others on the periphery, as well. You trained, competed, and traveled with some of these people. We’re a small community, anyway, but how much has familiarity within our program been an advantage for you so far?

Ruiz: It has been great because I feel like that trust is there. I like these guys, I trust them, and I know that they’re doing a good job. I’d like to think that they feel the same way about me. It has been super-helpful having those guys in coaching roles now and developing athletes. They are passing the knowledge and information along that they acquired during their careers. I think that has been helpful because if people don’t know you, don’t know your background, and haven’t had any interactions with you… Again, it comes down to trust, and that can take longer to build. But we have good coaches and they have been doing a good job with the athletes, which has been super-helpful.

ruiz and spenser mango

Ruiz (left) poses with 2022 USAW Greco-Roman Coach of the Year Spenser Mango at the US Open last month. Ruiz and Mango were on several Team USA rosters together, including for the ’10 and ’11 World Championships. Of having former competitive contemporaries like Mango as coaches inside of the US Greco-Roman program, Ruiz said, “It has been super-helpful having those guys in coaching roles now and developing athletes. They are passing the knowledge and information along that they acquired during their careers.” (Photo: John Sachs)

5PM: We have a small network of coaches who specialize more or less in the developmental age groups. I think of Westley Bockert and Lucas Steldt, for instance, although Lucas has raised his profile over the past few years. We have coaches like them, and some who are just getting started. We also have guys who competed in the past and want to be involved but aren’t yet for one reason or another. How do you go about engaging coaches who want to get involved with the program developmentally?

Justin Ruiz: We’re open to that. We are open to helping out. You mentioned a couple of coaches, Lucas and Westley. They have been coming out to camps and that has been helpful. Plus, they have good guys coming up. Really, anyone who wants to help, we’re open to it because everyone has something to add and from different perspectives. I don’t think you can go wrong promoting Greco, right? Anyone who is promoting Greco, helping train people in Greco, and expanding the athlete pool is beneficial. As far as people coming out and helping, we’re open to that. There are different levels to it. I know that things have kind of changed with USA Wrestling. A lot of the volunteer coaches come out, offer their time, and aren’t compensated for it. They are missing time from work and buying their own tickets to come out to camps. I think that shows a lot, their love for the sport. They are making sacrifices to give more and we are super-appreciative of that. Anyone who wants to help grow Greco, we’re all for it.

5PM: There may not be a whole lot of opportunities to talk about it, but why has there not been a bold public declaration regarding Olympic qualifying at the World Championships this year? In the past, this topic was key throughout entire seasons. For a recent example, at the Greco Summit in November of 2018, most of an entire day that weekend centered around discussing it, which was ten months before the next Worlds. Why is this not talked about more currently with a qualifying Worlds four months away?

Ruiz: I don’t think it is anything that is being intentionally avoided. What we are trying to do is create an environment for our guys to train and get better. Our feeling is, If we focus on taking care of the day-to-day improvements of our athletes, then that is how you get the outcomes that you want. It is really just, Day-to-day, let’s get better. What are the opportunities that we can create for our guys to get overseas to go to camp? Who are the coaches we can bring in to help our guys? Who are the foreign athletes — including those foreign athletes who live in the United States and have strong wrestling backgrounds — we can bring into camp to give our athletes better looks? This is the focus, but it is with the intent to have improved performance and to qualify. I mean, we’d love to qualify all of the weight classes for the Olympics.

It is still very much a part of the agenda and what we’re shooting for. Ultimately, we’d like to have medals. We would like to have the expectation where the guys aren’t just wrestling to make Teams or to qualify a weight class, but to be the best in the world and bring home hardware. That’s our ultimate goal. So even though we don’t put out a lot of statements saying, Qualify, qualify, it is very much at the top of our minds. We feel like the athletes realize that, too. Because —  they’re going out there and it is like, Hey, if that weight doesn’t get qualified, it means you’re staying home, and no one wants that.

So, it is not something that we are intentionally avoiding, but the focus is more for everyone to do the work, to put in what you have to put in, for everyone to do their part, and then collectively we’ll all have good results. We will all achieve what we want to achieve. That is how I view it. Show up everyday, take care of business, get in the right training environments, and then you will have a better opportunity to achieve the results you want to achieve.

5PM: What is one area thus far that has pleasantly surprised you?

Ruiz: I feel like the guys are really hungry to learn. I feel like going to camp that there are guys who will grab coaches and are asking questions… They want to get better. I mean, everyone wants to get better, right? At least the top guys do. That is great, to see that these guys are hungry and want to succeed. It is our job to give them more tools, more exposure, and more opportunities to do that. I like the attitude of guys. I think everyone wants to do well. Granted, you have to translate that desire into training, and then translate that into wins on the mat. But I think overall, people have a good attitude about things. That has been a real positive I think just because of some of the other strained relationships. That was kind of a question mark, how everyone was going to receive the new staff. I think the guys have been pretty receptive, and that’s good.

5PM: Whether via you yourself or in conjunction with others, what kind of ideas might potentially be available when it comes to increasing competitive opportunities within our own country?

Ruiz: I think we have some good news on that front because we have guys who love Greco and want to give back. I talked to Joe Uccellini at the US Open and he wants to bring back the Curby Cup, or wants to host it. That is something that he wants to do. It was really a breath of fresh air for him to come and do that because you’re always going to have critics, haters, or people complaining. But Joe came up and said, Hey, I want to help out, I want to contribute, and I was like, Awesome, that’s great. Rather than him coming with a complaint, he said that he saw the same problem with how there are not enough competitions, so he wants to do one. He wants to put together a dual like the Curby Cup used to be and then try to keep guys afterwards and do a tournament, as well. So I was like, Awesome. That’s huge.

Another huge blessing is Mark Fuller. He’s the one who really turned me onto Greco on the international level as far as setting my sights higher. He’s a four-time Olympian and I worked with him in high school. He was always just so positive and upbeat. He was the one when I said that I wanted to be a National champion, he asked, “How about becoming an Olympic Champion?” So I asked him, Well, how do you do that? He said, “Train with me”, and then shared the tournaments that I should go to. So I trained with him during the summer, made my first Junior World Team, got to go overseas, and then it was like, Oh, I love Greco. He taught me how to throw people on their heads. This is awesome. So Mark Fuller reached out to me saying that he wanted to give back to Greco. I asked him what he wanted to do and told him that I’d love for him to do whatever he wanted. It is always best to have people do something that they are passionate about rather than me asking you to do something like sticking a needle in your eye. That’s not something you’re jazzed about. He said, “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.” He’s been out talking to people and fundraising, and he’s talking about bringing a tournament back to California. He was talking about what a great tournament the Concord Cup was back in the day, so he wants to try to build something like that out in California. He has close relationships with people to whom he has already spoken and who will financially back it. He also wants to work on setting up another training site for Greco-Roman wrestling in California, as well.

I think with those, there are a couple of opportunities that should be happening in the future. This Olympic Year is a tight year and everything is already kind of on the schedule for that, so we’re probably looking at 2025. But I think those are two opportunities to have more domestic tournaments but with an international flair if we can get other teams to come over here. America is still a great place where a lot people want to come check it out if we can make it not too expensive for other countries. Even if they are sending just a handful of guys, I think that is a win for us. Those are two developments we are looking at in the future that I think would definitely help out our athletes with more opportunities to compete. We’d definitely like to have more. I mean, we are super-appreciative to have guys like Joe and Mark who are stepping up, rather than complaining about how we don’t have this or that. Instead, they were both saying, No, I have a solution and want to help. And it has been extremely helpful. It has been awesome.

5PM: Thus far into your tenure as GM, what would you say has been the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your job?

Justin Ruiz: The most enjoyable is just being in the wrestling room with the guys. That’s the most rewarding part. I’m not in every practice every single day; but being in the wrestling room and seeing the athletes train, watching them push and working to get better… That is something that fills my cup. That gives me life. The effort of the athletes gives me strength to want to do better, to do more, to try to do a better job of what I’m doing. Being in that wrestling room, there’s just something about it that makes my life better. I don’t know what else to say about that. That’s my absolute favorite part, being with the athletes and the coaches in the act of getting better at wrestling. That is hands-down my favorite part.

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