Olympic dreams and my father’s memories

Father shares stories with daugher about time as biathelon athletic trainer for Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics 



Daniel Ruiz dressed in Team U.S.A Snow gear at the Olympic Village.


Every four years, my temporary fixation with winter sports peaks at the Winter Olympics. I fall in love with figure skating, snowboarding, even curling for 17 days as the best athletes in the world compete to see who will take home the gold. 

And every four years, my most vivid and fond memory of the Olympics remains the same. It is not my favorite athlete winning gold or the underdog getting a personal best; it’s of my dad, Daniel Huerta Ruiz, telling my sister and me a story. 

When I was young, my family looked through a box of memorabilia labeled NAGANO 1998. As my dad sifted through his things, his eyes flickered with the memory of the Olympic flame and the deafening roar of the Olympic stadium crowd. He told us how the air had electric energy to it and an overwhelming feeling of happiness. 

As a then 32-year-old first-generation Mexican-American, my dad poured his heart and soul into his career and became an athletic trainer for the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics. He worked for WSU as an athletic trainer from 1993-95 where he met my mom. When he received the letter inviting him to the medical team in May of 1997, a year after the two had married, my dad accepted. Over the next year, he prepared to leave for five weeks to work one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Once in Japan, my dad got assigned to the biathlon medical personnel. He told me about the cold days on the mountain and wandering around the Olympic Village with the other athletic trainers. He went on and on about the mass groups of athletes and staff from different countries laughing and enjoying their time together in the mess hall. 

My dad also endured a lot to achieve what he did. He grew up in poverty he seldom likes to discuss and worked extremely hard to become a first-generation college graduate. After finishing his undergrad, he went back to school to receive two master’s degrees. Though it wasn’t easy, he clawed his way to the Winter Olympics job by job and rightfully earned a spot on the medical team.

I often think about the experience everyone who is not an athlete has. It excites me that other staff and personnel get to share this competition with their families and pass down heirlooms, just like my dad did to my family. Especially other Cougs, like WSU nursing student Daniel Voltz. A 50-year-old member chosen for the 2022 Olympic Mountain Rescue for the alpine ski racing competition, according to the WSU Insider.  

His responsibilities are far from the same as my dad’s, but watching other Cougs –  faculty, student or otherwise – be chosen for such an esteemed competition is uplifting and inspiring.

As the Winter Olympics come to an end and the dreaded closing ceremony nears, I am reminded that, although amazing chapters in our lives must eventually close, other adventures await.

My dad’s adventure did not end after this monumental achievement. He continued to worked and interned for major sports teams like the Carolina Panthers and NASCAR, eventually retiring from professional and university sports in 2002 to help raise my sister and me. 

His new goal was to become the best teacher he could be. It led him to become an accomplished and awarded teacher and advance to his current position as a high school administrator.

Even with the growing years, my dad and I still find time to talk about his experience. The conversation always reminds me of the first time he told me, start to finish, his journey to the Winter Olympics. It is a gentle reminder that achieving your dreams isn’t easy; it never was for my dad. He went through years and years of harsh treatment and long work days, but based on the smile he wears when he remembers the olympic flame, I’d say he thinks it was worth it.