MHS grad becomes Airborne Ranger
For The Madera Tribune
Former Madera High School graduate Daniel Ruiz went from placing sixth in the CIF State Wrestling Tournament to jumping out of airplanes, then winning a wrestling state championship and becoming a college All-American.
Ruiz graduated from MHS in 2014 after placing sixth at the CIF State championships at 120 and 126 pounds his junior and senior year. Then, he joined the military and served four years with the U.S. Army.
“I started off as infantry,” he said. “I went to airborne and became airborne infantry. That qualified me to jump out of airplanes. I did about 30-plus jumps. It’s an adrenaline rush and three times, I was the first in line to jump out. It was like if I don’t jump, then I’m going to mess it up for the guys behind me so I have to jump. It was a lot of pressure.”
Ruiz became an Airborne Army Ranger and got deployed to Afghanistan for three months. He returned home after his four-year term was up and decided to leave the military.
“While in basic training, I picked up a ranger regiment contract,” he said. “After airborne school, I moved down the road to Ranger selection to get into a Ranger regiment. I became an airborne ranger infantry.”
After getting out of the military as an Army Airborne Ranger, Ruiz got the itch to begin wrestling and start his college career.
“They gave me an option to re-enlist or get out,” Ruiz said. “My leadership wanted me to stay in. I didn’t want to do it much longer. It was nice and I enjoyed it. I have bigger things in mind besides the Army. My older brother got out a year before I did in the military. He went to Fresno City and did well and talked me into it. I saw his success and missed wrestling. That pushed me back into it.”
Ruiz went to Fresno City College and immediately won a state championship at 146 pounds while also helping the Rams to a State Championship. After his freshman year, he was recruited to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, an NCAA Div. III school.
“When I transferred, my sophomore year, I got right on the team at 149 pounds,” Ruiz said. “I qualified for the national tournament and that was when COVID first came out. Our national tournament got canceled. We were ranked first as a team. This season, we weren’t sure if we were having a national tournament and it got canceled by the NCAA. The college wrestling association got with USA Wrestling and decided they were going to host their own national tournament. I went there and placed seventh at 157 pounds, which is All-American status.”
Ruiz is finishing his junior year at Loras while majoring in computer science.
“I want to go work for Microsoft or Apple and do something with programming and software development,” he said. “Everywhere is the middle of nowhere in Iowa compared to California. You show up and you’re already in the middle of town and you drive right through it.”
Ruiz has enjoyed his time at every one of his stops, including the military. He said that by joining the Army, it helped give him a break from constantly going to school rather than going straight to college.
“It let me live life for a little,” he said. “This also gives you life experiences outside of being in school and then going straight to college and not getting time to take a break. That was a nice thing I had. I got some life experience and came back. I feel like I got more mature than a lot of people around me. I was a guy that gave people life advice. It helped me with leadership. The con is I was the old man on the team. Another con is competing with a kid right out of college and wondering if you can compete at the same level.”
However, Ruiz said the break also helped him in wrestling.
“Taking that break makes me feel like I’m a different wrestler than I was in high school. I’m more strategic,” he said. “Out of the Army, I came in at 170 pounds. I thought I wanted to wrestle at 149 pounds. All the conditioning to lose the weight really helped.”
Ruiz said he would take the journey again if he had his choice because it helped him with his future. Because of his service time, he qualified for the G.I. Bill, which is helping him through school.
“My advice would be it’s a great way to set yourself up for your next step in life after the military, if you plan to get out of the military,” he said. “It’s a great stepping stone. It looks great on your resume. You get a lot of incentives like the G.I. Bill. I don’t have to work. While I’m in school, I’ll get money from the G.I. Bill. The military has programs to help veterans get jobs when they get out of the military.”
Although it was tough for Ruiz to leave the military, he feels he made the right decision.
“I talked to my family about what my plans were,” he said. “I was having that internal battle with myself to be done after these four years or do I want to stay in. it was a tough decision. In the end, I had a plan. I had it set out the way I wanted so I want to get out. It’s bittersweet to leave the military.”
Ruiz also reflects on his time in Madera and feels the need to give back to the athletes. He helped out coaching while he was home at Fresno City College and feels he has a lot to offer up-and-coming athletes.
“Reflecting on the experience I’ve had in Madera has been great.” he said. “It made me want to come back. I wanted to give back. Everything I’ve learned and the opportunities I’ve had, it made we want to teach the younger wrestlers that there is a bigger picture. There is a bigger world you can set yourself up for. I told them to get their grades good to go to the college you want. If you wrestle with grades, you can get recruited by the college you want and get accepted by them. There’s opportunities out there.”