Student Profile: Dominic “Nick” Ruiz ’13

There is no one more devoted to the Dimple than Dominic “Nick” Ruiz ’13.

He inspires students and faculty alike with his determination to walk around the Dimple with his walker. Gripping the handles of the walker, Ruiz walks around the Dimple everyday regardless of the weather. Backpack in tow, his routine walks serve as study breaks.

Just how many times he has rounded the Dimple is a mystery to everyone, including Ruiz. “I’ve been asked this question many times,”said Ruiz. “I actually never keep track unless I have a class.”

Unfortunately, many buildings lining the Dimple are inaccessible to Ruiz. The Office of Admissions, despite accepting Ruiz into the Class of 2013, is inaccessible to him. Park Hall, despite processing Ruiz’s paperwork, also is inaccessible to him.

Ruiz said accessibility at Wheaton, “has certainly improved, which is a good thing. They finally have the handicap accessible signs. When I started here there really wasn’t any yet.” Ruiz also said, “That’s the only improvement.”

Ruiz was born with cerebral palsy, a medical condition characterized by disordered body movement caused by early life brain injury or brain abnormality. Cerebral palsy affects motor skills, posture and muscle tone, hence Ruiz’s need for a walker.

Ruiz feels fortunate though, as some people with cerebral palsy are confined to wheelchairs. Multiple back surgeries prevented Ruiz from developing properly, resulting in scissoring legs, a cerebral palsy complication where tight hip and leg muscles cause the legs to curl and cross at the knees, making walking a challenge. Ruiz last had surgery his freshmen year of college, but his most extensive surgeries occurred when he was in fourth grade.

“It’s just sort of like a sports team, where it’s like if the odds are against a specific team and they’re struggling, they’ll usually work up to something like getting the playoffs and that’s how I usually felt,” said Ruiz about recovering from surgeries.

While Wheaton may not be completely accessible to Ruiz, the school has always been welcoming. Wheaton provides Ruiz scribes, or people to take notes for Ruiz during class. Also, unlike on Ruiz’s tour of Boston University, he and his parents were able to keep up with the tour group at Wheaton.

While Ruiz’s family is infatuated with science, Ruiz’s focus is history. He has been fascinated by the subject ever since he learned about the American Revolution in elementary school. Over time, Ruiz became more interested in world history than American history, which motivated him to major in International Relations.

Last summer, Ruiz worked for the Atlantic Media Company in Washington, D.C., where he researched war and U.S. National Security. Ruiz dreams of working for a U.S. government agency specializing in foreign policy. He said having cerebral palsy taught him the importance of, “still persevering in what you are interested in.” He plans to apply this attitude in achieving his career aspirations.

Ruiz’s love of languages compliments his International Relations major well. His mother, who is from the Philippines, speaks English as well as Tagalog, one of the many dialectics of the Filipino language. Ruiz speaks some Tagalog too, though not in full sentences.

Ruiz previously studied Spanish and Latin, but focuses on Arabic at Wheaton. He actually finds Arabic easier to learn than Spanish, especially when it comes to the verbs of the two languages. Ruiz attempted to take Arabic all four years at Wheaton, but a class for his International Relations Major prevented him from achieving that goal. Despite this setback, he is nearly fluent in Arabic.

His blood relations also contributed to his interest in International Relations. Ruiz’s maternal grandmother lives in the Philippines. Growing up, Ruiz relished listening to her World War II stories from the Filipino perspective. His late grandfather often starred in these stories, as he was a war hero.

“My grandfather saved Ferdinand Marcos’ life during World War II. Well, that was before Marcos went south,” said Ruiz, as Marcos left a controversial legacy. An army officer during World War II, Marcos later went on to impose martial law on the Philippines from 1972 until 1986 in order to keep his position as President of the Philippines.

Ruiz’s maternal family heroism began long before World War II. His great, great grandfather was Emilio Aguinaldo, a leader in the Philippine Revolution who later became the first president of the Philippine Republic in 1899. However, Aguinaldo’s presidency only lasted until 1901. Spain gave its Philippine colony to the United States as part of the 1898 Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War.

The United States refused to recognize Aguinaldo as the leader of their newly acquired colony, and so the Philippine-American War followed. Aguinaldo’s capture by United States forces ended with his compulsory allegiance to the United States. While President Theodore Roosevelt granted amnesty to Filipino citizens in 1902, many Filipinos continued to fight with American soldiers.

Ruiz said, regarding Aguinaldo and Roosevelt, “the great, great grandfathers were enemies, but their great, great grandsons are friends.” Ruiz’s cousins are not only friends with Theodore Roosevelt’s descendants, but with the family of the current Philippines president.

In addition to Aguinaldo, Ruiz considers ice hockey player Alexander Ovechkin to be his hero. Ruiz’s eyes are often glued to ice rinks, as he is an avid hockey fan. He has been to numerous National Hockey League (NHL) games. His favorite hockey team is NHL’s Washington Capitals, Overchkin’s team.

At one game, Ruiz found himself in the same elevator as Brooks Laich and Mike Green, current Washington Capitals players, as well as Jose Theodore, who now plays for the Florida Panthers. “If it were Sydney Crosby [in the elevator], I think I may have just pushed him in the back,” said Ruiz with a chuckle about the Pittsburgh Penguins captain, and a hated rival, of the Washington Capitals.

Oveckin is Ruiz’s inspiration for walking around the Dimple. Ruiz’s enthusiasm for Ovechkin is apparent as he recounts Ovechkin’s incredible goal against the Coyotes on Jan. 15, 2006. Ruiz almost fell himself showing how Overchkin fell on his back and slid on ice to eventually score the goal.

Whether walking around the Dimple or learning a new language, Ruiz, like Ovechkin, is not afraid to fall. Ruiz said the most important life lesson he has learned having cerebral palsy is that, no matter what the circumstances, “life still goes on.”