Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, October 24th.
Mike Ruffino, who'd been training for quite some time,
prepared himself for a unique competition;
one that wasn't so much a challenge against another man as it was one against himself.
Like so many contests, it wasn't so much a question of winning or losing as it was a question of how much of himself he was capable of throwing into it.
He centered himself, imagined what would happen next, and called upon his training and his memories of training.
When it was time, Mike stepped into a 27 foot cage with a referee and another man.
Why was Ruffino in a cage fight?
it was partly a bucket list thing,
not only, like so many thing Mike does, a challenge against himself;
but also, because in his own words, he believes in heroism:
I believe in heroism.
I believe it is not exclusively reserved for military,
law enforcement, or fire fighters, but that it is a trait of the common man. I believe that if you have the ability to help someone in dire need, then you have the responsibility.
In my life and travels I have seen muggings, multiple-attacker brawls, and even knife fights, but even if I had not seen any of those, one could spend 10 minutes on Facebook and see videos of people doing something horrible to each other.
What we are less-likely to see are videos of people
stopping something horrible.
I have been very fortunate to have fared well in all of the worst-case-scenarios that have crossed my path,
but what if I see someone being set upon by another who actually knows what they are doing?
A trained aggressor who knows how to really hurt someone?
My beliefs command me to get involved, and my ability or inability to help someone when they truly need it directly relates to how well I prepare ahead of time.
Mike stepped into the ring, fought like mad, and held his own admirably.
A couple rounds later he was the subject of a TKO.
His opponent had won the match, but Mike had won on so many levels - conquering his own needs and fears, learning what it's like to be in such a situation, and truly becoming more prepared for such time as he might be called upon to be heroic.
Three weeks later Mike stepped on the back of a gondola in Newport Beach to compete in the solo distance race:
2.2 miles around Balboa Island, Collins Island, and Little Balboa Island.
Preparing for the race, he once again centered himself, imagined what would happen next, and went out with the plan to fight like mad and demand everything of himself.
As it happened, Mike ended up rowing in a heat where all four competitors were from his home servizio – Gondola Company of Newport.
(Mike's been there since 2008).
They’re a great bunch of guys who, like most gondoliers,
really love their job.
from friends and family, some even showing up with signs.
When these four guys shoved off and started rowing,
there was a lot of cheering going on.
I’m sure he benefitted from the energy-release of yelling.
When the back end of the ferry didn’t disappear into the cutout,
I had to do a quick stop and 90 degree turn.
Thanks to photographer Mindy Schauer of the Orange County Register,
we have some dynamic images of Mike Ruffino’s trip to the finish line.
What I thought was best to do with that turn, it was all power strokes, and after the turn, a really hard back stroke.
the “dance photo”.
photo by Mindy Schauer
He knew he'd finished well in his heat, but Mike was surprised to learn that he'd secured second place overall.
He hadn't rowed cruises since summer, and had only spent an hour or so tandem training the day before Nationals.
He creditsother training exercises with his readiness and level of conditioning.
Mike also does a variation of hot yoga which includes weights.
Some of you might be tired of hearing me say that gondoliers are interesting, but Mike is a prime example.
In addition to all of the above, he's been a sculptor's model for seven years now. He's worked with world renowned artists and some pieces based on his posing have been displayed in galleries.
His bucket list no longer includes "cage fight,"
but there are plenty of other interesting items.
He'd like to work on a cruise ship,
drive in a demolition derby,
and "bulldog and alligator."
On Christmas Day he'll head to Northern Ireland
and work at the Vagabonds Hostel (another bucket list item).
The Photo - I Mean THE Photo
With all of the sculpture posing and other remarkable "image captures" he's ever been the subject of, I really don't think anything can compare to the photo Mindy Schauer snapped of Mike Ruffino, just a few strokes from the finish line.
If the world sees only one image of voga-alla-Veneta in the United States,
I hope it's this one.
Special thanks go out to the staff at the Orange County Register
not only for showing up and taking great images,
but also for allowing me to post them here.
To see the full slide show, go to:
Simon Atkins managed to get a GoPro camera on that boat before the race,
and the full run is viewable on YouTube at: