Strong Spirit Defeats Fractured Spine
- Published: April 29, 2004
Switzerland’s Lucinda Martha Ruh was born in Zurich on July 13, 1979 and moved shortly thereafter to Paris, France with her family. The former Swiss champion first took to the ice when she was four after her family relocated again to Tokyo, Japan. After settling into her new home, Ruh joined her older sister, Michele, who was already skating. “While living in Japan, we lived so far from everything,” reflected Ruh. “With the fear of earthquakes, mom wanted us together as she could only be at one place at one time. So I skated with my sister.”
While figure skating, Ruh was also heavily involved in ballet training. “I was practicing [ballet] almost everyday and just skating once a week,” she said. “I received a scholarship to the Royal Ballet of London when I was 7.” Afterwards, Ruh had to decide which art she wanted to pursue.
“I was already doing piano and cello and there was no time to do ballet and figure skating with school full time,” said Ruh. “So when I was 8, I decided to skate and minimize ballet to once a week. Just the opposite of what I had been doing.”
While in Japan, Ruh competed in various competitions and even qualified for the Japanese National Championships, but the results didn’t count since she was a foreigner. “I wasn’t allowed to do Senior Nationals but could participate in the local, East and West competitions,” explained Ruh. “I think it may have been frustrating for some of the Japanese skaters to have me in their competitions, but I never took anyone’s slot since my results weren’t factored in.”
Ruh praised the Japanese Skating Federation, commenting, “They were always very supportive and wonderful to me and I’m so grateful to them for the graciousness they showed me.” She went on to say, “I remember loving the competitions. The gliding and the feeling of being in charge of everything I did because I was alone out there. It was my time to shine. Just me! And I could skate just like I wanted.”
Ruh comes from an athletic family. Her parents participated in all kinds of sports while growing up in Switzerland, including swimming and playing tennis in the summer and skiing and skating in the winter. “My dad used to do a lot of speed skating when he was younger and competed in some of the local [Swiss] competitions,” shared Ruh, adding that her mother did gymnastics.
Ruh never played hockey. “In Japan, that was just for the guys,” she said with a chuckle.
When Ruh was 12, she landed her first triple jump, the triple toeloop. “I used to love jumps when I was younger because I was tiny,” said Ruh. “All the jumps came so easy to me and I never missed anything in competitions.”
Then at the age of 17, Ruh began to grow, reaching 5’9″ (175.26 cm). “Since the center of gravity was higher, combined with the rigid training while growing, I never really had a chance to get my timing and balance back,” said Ruh. “As a result, injuries from bad falls plagued me even more and I started not liking jumps. But I always liked the toeloop the best.”
Due to extensive traveling, Ruh encountered coaching difficulties throughout her skating career. “I never lived in my home country and yet skating for it made room for a lot of politics to get in the way with training and competitions,” noted Ruh. “I started off well in 1986 with Mr. Nobuo Sato, but being on a foreign team with the stress of the politics was too much for both of us.”
In 1996, Ruh moved to Canada and began working with Toller Cranston. “It was an incredible experience, yet too artistic for training,” acknowledged Ruh. “It did not work out because we were both artists and there was no structure.”
A year later, the Swiss Federation referred Ruh to Christy Ness, Kristi Yamaguchi’s former coach. “Due to overtraining, both on and off the ice, I was injured again,” said Ruh, who acquired two Achilles tendonitis, a ruptured shoulder and Sciatica.
Shortly thereafter, Ruh made a decision in 1998 to move to China to train with Hongyun Liu (Lu Chen and Zhengxin Guo’s former coach). “We had met before,” said Ruh, adding that they clicked instantly. “I was already missing Asia,” she revealed, “and since I felt so comfortable with Mr. Liu, I was looking forward to the move and the new training regime and I wasn’t disappointed. Here, I had the most fantastic training and landed all my triple jumps everyday. Things begin to look promising.”
Not promising enough. It appeared that the unlucky streak had followed Ruh across the globe. “I was told by the Chinese Federation that I was not allowed to be trained by him because I wasn’t Chinese,” stated Ruh.
Forlorn but not defeated, Ruh went back to her home country of Switzerland in December, though she had never lived there. “There was really no where else to go,” said Ruh, who didn’t have a home at that time. It was there that she met with and trained under Oliver Höner. “He brought me to my best performances ever at the 1999 World Figure Skating Championships,” emphasized Ruh.
That summer, following her last appearance at worlds, Ruh went to Connecticut to try to train again with Hongyun Liu. “He was only going to be there for two months,” remembered Ruh. “I didn’t want to leave Oliver, but just wanted the opportunity to work with Liu again. However, the minute I got there, I was again told that I was not allowed to be taught by him.”
It was then that Galina Zmievskaya offered to help Ruh. “But during training, I tore ligaments in my knees,” pointed out Ruh, who decided to go to Switzerland to work with specialists on her injuries.
During the 1999-2000 season, Ruh fell on a jump during practice the day before she was to compete at the Cup of Russia. “I was in so much pain,” said Ruh, who received three Cortisone injections a day. Ruh placed sixth at the Cup of Russia, her last eligible competition. “I was supposed to compete at NHK Trophy that season, but I could barely walk let alone skate a decent program.” It wasn’t until later that Ruh discovered her spine had been fractured, leading to two dislocated discs.
Due to the number and seriousness of some of her injuries, Ruh knew that she could no longer train at a competitive level. “I just kept coming back too quick and they all never healed. As I was healing at home in Switzerland, Ari Zakarian offered to help me get back into skating on a professional level,” Ruh said. “This way, I could show my talent for spinning to the world without having the stress on all my injuries from jumping too much.”
In 2000, Ruh joined the professional ranks, winning the bronze medal at the World Professional Championships in her first pro debut. The following year, Ruh won another bronze at the Hallmark Skater’s Championships.
To aid in the healing process, Ruh combines therapy, massage, and acupuncture with Pilates and Yoga. “I also have been doing a lot of spiritual recovery because these injuries, combined with not being able to skate, have caused a lot of inner pain for me,” Ruh said, who sometimes feels that the sport she loves has been snatched from her.
Despite the coaching problems and injuries, Ruh had the opportunity to work with a variety of talented choreographers including Christopher Dean, Sarah Kawahara, Lori Nichol, Lea-Ann Miller, Robin Cousins, Alexander Zhulin, and Toller Cranston. When she was young, the outline of her choreography was done by her coach while Ruh choeographed her own arm movements and steps.
Although Ruh doesn’t feel she achieved the goals she had set during her eligible career, she does feel she has changed skating history with her art. “Gold medals at Worlds and Olympics is something you dream about, but I have achieved something different and hope it has given young skaters and athletes the inspiration to have the courage to be different,” Ruh said. “I remember my father always telling me that I had to be special and unique on the ice. To stand out and make my mark rather than winning a gold medal,” she continued. “So I think I definitely achieved that to enormous heights.”
While Ruh doesn’t limit herself when choosing music for her programs, she prefers to skate to classical and spiritual music. “It has to be something that will move me to great emotions so I can express them and tell my story on the ice,” said Ruh.
Ruh plans to perform again when she has fully recovered. “I am trying very hard to be able to do this,” said Ruh of her recovery progress. “If all goes well, I would like to continue doing TV shows and live performances around the world.”
Ruh would like to be remembered for her unique and creative spinning techniques. That won’t be difficult considering skaters have been emulating her spins for years and continue to do so. Ruh recently gained a notable entry into the Guinness Book of World Records by breaking the record of the number of revolutions on the ice with one foot without stopping. “I think Neil Wilson of Britain held the record before me with 60 revolutions,” said Ruh, who nearly doubled that number with 115 revolutions. “I would also like to create instructive skating videos for spinning techniques,” she added.
Ruh is currently teaching at Lake Arrowhead. “I really enjoy it,” said Ruh. “It’s a wonderful feeling to give back to skating what you have learned.” Ruh tries to use teaching techniques in a way that she herself would have preferred to have been taught. “It’s amazing to see a smile on a skater’s face when they accomplish something,” said Ruh, who is choreographing the 2004-2005 long program for USA’s Justin Dillon. “Hopefully in the future I will be able to do choreography for more competitors as well as big shows like Stars on Ice,” she continued.
Despite her time off the ice, Ruh is staying busy. “I have just launched my fashion company and hope it will be a huge success,” said Ruh, of Lucinda’s Sparkle. “It is selling my own creation of beaded water bottle holders. In addition to the creative bottle holders, Ruh is currently working to expand her business by incorporating her own clothing line for street and skating wear. “I also like to design costumes for competitions,” she said.
In addition to her fashion business, Ruh also hopes to do some modeling and pursue a career in the entertainment business. “I’m also starting to write my own book of my life,” offered Ruh, “but not a typical skating story. It’s about culture, politics, people, and life styles, all while chasing a dream.”
Ruh grew up admiring the Russian pair of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. “They were my all time favorite,” said Ruh, who tried to emulate everything Gordeeva did, even copying her costumes. “I also loved Katarina Witt,” the 24-year-old added. “Now I have added to my list Kurt Browning, Scott Hamilton and Michelle Kwan. I love them all for their originality, perseverance, strength and courage. They all bring something so unique to skating.”
When she has time, Ruh enjoys playing tennis, basketball, and badminton. “I also love swimming, running and yoga,” said Ruh, “though I can’t do them at this time due to my injury.”
Ruh’s other hobbies include painting, drawing, and reading biographies. “I also like to do interior and exterior design, and of course, fashion design,” said Ruh. When relaxing, Ruh likes to listen to music by Enya, gospel and soft rock. She also enjoys romantic comedies and movies with deep spiritual meanings and life lessons. “I love to learn from others,” said Ruh, adding that she liked watching old movies. “I love Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Shirley McClaine.”
Although Ruh loves to travel, she has been doing it all her life and feels that she wants to settle down and have a real home. Her favorite trip was when her whole family went on the Trans-Siberian Train from Beijing to St. Petersburg in 1988. “This was an amazing trip of bare necessities and a true human experience,” reflected Ruh. “The ever changing landscape and the repetitive sound of the train tracks are some of the things never to be forgotten.”
Though Ruh has traveled the globe and wants to settle down, there are still a few things she’d like to do. “I would like to go camping,” she remarked. “I have never been!” Ruh would also like to go on a safari in Africa, and if she finds the time, pursue a degree in physics or architecture.
Ruh used to collect stars, porcelain dolls, figures, pierots, and turtles. “Now I love crystals and stars,” she said, adding that she still has yet to see a shooting star.
Speaking of shooting stars, Ruh is still waiting for that ‘special’ someone. “I don’t have a boyfriend right now. It would be nice to have someone to share life with. Maybe I’m just too picky!” she said with a giggle. “I am the type who believes that my prince charming is out there somewhere. I always used to tease my dad that he had to go out on a horse and find me one like in those fairy tales!”
When asked what advice she would give young skaters, Ruh concluded, “See and feel your dream with your whole body and mind and do it because it is your dream, not someone else’s. Don’t dream what other people dream. Remember that each one of you are special and unique. Take that uniqueness and make it your own. Express it to the world and show your story. The more you respect and love yourself, the more others will love and respect you. When hard times come, keep up your faith and most importantly, never ever forget you are what you believe in. If you stay true to yourself you will find the rainbow.”