Paul Ruggeri
Men's Artistic Gymnastics

By Derek Reinglass
Action photo by John Cheng

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Paul Ruggeri III, or as some guys on his University of Illinois Fighting Illini gymnastics team call him "Rug," is not your typical student-athlete. Despite the commitment gymnastics requires, Ruggeri still manages to find time for his other interests, while preserving the student component of student-athlete.

Ruggeri has a strong passion for art. He enjoys painting, drawing, and photography. "I often engage myself in such activities to alleviate stress," Ruggeri said.

But these aren't your average point and shoot pictures or daydreaming doodles.

"My senior year of high school I submitted artwork to the Scholastic Art Awards of Central New York," Ruggeri said. "My subject matter for this portfolio was mostly oil paint but also included a color pencil, charcoal and gray-scale. I mostly like to paint/draw portraits of people/artists who really interest me. My portfolio received a gold key (there is honorable mention, silver key and gold key) and was submitted to represent our region in a national competition."

Although he isn't currently taking any art classes in college, he still manages to explore his creative side during his spare time. Ruggeri has created a blog to display some of his work, which can be viewed at

Ruggeri not only excels in the gym and his art, but he is also a top-notch student. With only 24 hours in a day, class work for any athlete is a challenge, let alone for an athlete majoring in cellular and molecular biology like Ruggeri. While some may look at a rugged practice schedule as a hurdle, Ruggeri credits it to helping him succeed in both endeavors.

"Gymnastics has helped me be a well-rounded individual," Ruggeri said. "I have learned that once you set your mind to something, you can achieve it if you really want it. I know that I am capable of handling a tough academic schedule along with a tough training schedule and being successful at both. Currently at Illinois, I train from 3 -6 p.m., Monday-Friday, and an additional three hours on Saturday. After I am done competing I hope to further my education by attending medical school, podiatry school, or maybe even law school. I am keeping my options open."

Gymnastics for Ruggeri began when he was young, but it didn't take long for him to enter the competitive scene.

"I first became interested in gymnastics after taking mom and tot classes," Ruggeri said. "My mother and her sisters were gymnasts so she put me into gymnastics because I was a very high-energy child. I decided I wanted to compete when I was about 7, and began competing at an elite level when I did Future Stars for the first time when I was 12 years old. I remember when I started to train a lot more consistently. It was a struggle in the beginning because I always wanted to hang out with my friends, but I don't regret one minute of the sacrifice."

Competition doesn't suit the faint-hearted. Only some athletes are cut out for pressure.

"I love competition because I love to see how far I can take my body in a competition setting," said Ruggeri. "Your body is at a much higher state of excitement when competing. I make sure I walk around quite a bit the day of a meet to keep my legs warm and I also almost always eat Subway beforehand."

When Ruggeri isn't training, competing, studying, or doing some sort of art, he enjoys spending his time back home in New York at his parent's lake house.

"My parents have a lake house in the Adirondack Mountains on White Lake in New York," Ruggeri said. "We have a boat and a jet ski that my brother and I utilize. I love going home because I get to completely relax at the lake house and just have fun!"

Apparently, Ruggeri's gymnastics ability also translates to the lake. He performs flip after flip in various water sports, including wake-boarding, knee-boarding, water-skiing, and cliff jumping. Check out this video clip of him and his brother to catch a glimpse.

Ruggeri's comfort level in the lake may very well stem from his parents.

"My mother was a gymnast, cheerleader and a diver in high school," Ruggeri said. "My father was a swimmer at State University of New York-Geneseo and is a three-time Iron Man Lake Placid finisher."

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