CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Being deployed presents many challenges for Soldiers. They must leave their friends, families and homes behind as they travel to another part of the world to fill their roles in the Army's mission there. For most of them, many of the luxuries, freedoms and other things that they enjoy at home must be set aside. One Soldier from Multinational Battle Group East has found a way to continue to enjoy one of his favorite activities, even while deployed to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission here.
Since 1988, Spc. Carlos Ruiz, 41, an infantryman with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 296th Infantry Brigade, MNBG E, Puerto Rico National Guard, has been training for and competing in triathlons and mountain bike races. Despite being away from home, Ruiz, Gurabo, Puerto Rico, continues to train for these rigorous competitions while in Kosovo.
A triathlon is a race that combines swimming, running and cycling into one event. The distance and terrain on these events vary. While home in Puerto Rico, Ruiz, who joined the National Guard in 1987, before having a break in service and rejoining in 2006, competes in between 8 and 10 triathlons each year, he said.
Recently, Ruiz has been training for and competing in half-Iron Man competitions. These consist of a 1.2-mile swim in open water, a 56-mile bicycle course and a 13.1-mile run. Ruiz said he hopes to compete in a full Iron Man within the next three or four years.
In addition to the triathlons, Ruiz also competes approximately 8 times per year in bicycle races as a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard cycling team. He doesn?t get paid from the National Guard for his participation in the team, but they do provide him assistance with training and maintenance on his bicycle, Ruiz said.
To stay competitive, Ruiz said he must constantly train for the races. At home, he trains every day of the week and he tries to stay just as vigilant while overseas, Ruiz said.
“It's a little difficult to train here because I don't have the resources I have at home,” he said, “but I also don't have as many distractions. I can just focus on my mission here and training.”
Ruiz has had to somewhat adjust his training due to the limited resources here.
“I'm mostly focusing on running and cycling now,” Ruiz said. “[When we first got here] I was focused on building a strong running base. Now I'm building up my cycling and keeping my running steady.”
“There's no pool or anything, so I can't really swim while I'm here,” Ruiz continued, “but I do weight lifting that builds the same muscles that are used while swimming.”
In addition to the improved fitness level, Ruiz said he feels that his training and competing reflects well on his military service.
“When I'm training and competing, I have to be able to deal with the pressure from other competitors,” he said. “I also have to be focused and have discipline. I also have to stay highly motivated. These are all things that are important as a Soldier, too.” As far as his motivation is concerned, Ruiz has several different motivators. One of these is just his competitive nature.
“When I compete, I try to do my best,” he said. “I enjoy doing this and I have fun, but when it comes time to compete, I want to win. If I don't win, though, I need to know that I did the best I could.”
In terms of giving his all and trying to win, Ruiz recalled a memorable race of his from when he first started doing triathlons.
“I remember my first triathlon was a very short and high paced race,” Ruiz said. “The swim was in a pool and we had to do a set number of laps. I was fourth coming out of the water. Next came the cycling and I got into second place rather quickly. I was just pushing, trying to catch first place.
“Then, when it came time to transition into the run, I heard the guy in first (place) say, 'That's it. I can't do anymore.' So I just kept going. I ran at a good pace and won the race, but I got disqualified because somebody said I didn't do enough laps during the swim. I knew I did them all, though, because I wasn't a very good swimmer at the time and I was counting every lap, pushing myself to finish.
“I didn't get first, second or even third place because they disqualified me, but I went home that day, knowing in my heart that I won that race.”
Another motivator for Ruiz is his age.
“I'm in my forties now, but I can still go out there and outrun guys that are half my age,” he said. “That feels good.”
Finally, Ruiz said that he is also motivated to keep training and competing because he feels it sets a good example to his children. His 10-year-old son, Jeancarlo, has also begun training for these events. Ruiz said this gives him a good way to bond with his son.
“We'll go running or cycling together and he's actually pretty good,” Ruiz said. “He keeps up with me pretty well.”
In regard to why he thinks his son began training for triathlons, Ruiz had this to say.
“I think he does it because he wants to be like his dad. That makes me proud.”
Ruiz said he hopes to continue competing shortly after he returns from his deployment in Kosovo. He lives in Gurabo with his wife, Janesse Rodriguez and their two children, Jeancarlo and Karla. Ruiz's civilian occupation is a business manager in security and safety at the Puerto Rico Art Museum.