Gold Medal Award Recipient - Casey Ruff

Casey Ruff's Story

I’ve never really done the “normal” thing, perhaps because I never had a really normal life. I applied for this award on the basis of overcoming adversity in light of permanent disability and socio-economic difficulty.

My most serious disabilities stem from the cumulative effects of repetitive brain trauma. I hold permanent cognitive impairments described as learning disabilities; as well I am functionally blind in my right eye, the result of an accident with a horse in 2001.

I have suffered several concussions in my lifetime, not something uncommon; however I gathered these from being abused as a toddler by my biological parents, and of course from a rambunctious childhood. I have been left with many scars from these events.

After a childhood of abuse and neglect, my brothers and I were abandoned and left to fend for ourselves. My brothers went elsewhere to survive their childhoods, leaving me in the home by myself.

I struggled to care for myself while keeping my family situation and my personal welfare a secret from most of my friends, all but one of my teachers, and from my other relatives, in order to stay out of the child services system. Growing up in the areas that I did in Calgary, I feared being sent into the child welfare system and being placed in foster care.

Finally, when the gas had been turned off in the winter and I could no longer manage the house by myself, I consulted my extended family for help leaving the home. With the help of my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandparents took me so that I could finish my final year of high school. I stayed on until my first year of university at the University of Calgary, where I was enrolled in Fine Arts-Art – I had a talent for drawing and painting.

My life experiences should have tipped me into drug abuse and the crime to feed it – there was plenty of that in my neighborhood. However, I knew that if I fell into that abyss I would never come out. So I drove myself to survive by telling myself that I was not going to become “that,” I was not going to allow the destitution to devour me. I did not come out of this unscathed; I became a withdrawn and bitter young man. Throughout those days I spent considerable periods of time sitting in the dark and wondering “why me,” but I would push myself to continue, as I have throughout all the dark periods of my life, even when I knew that the next day would be no better than the last one.

After my first and very unsuccessful year at the U of C, I proceeded through young adulthood completely independent. I lived on my own. I worked in Banff National Park, where I became an accomplished horseman and backcountry guide. I tried a second year at the University of Calgary, to no avail. Instead, riding horses bareback enabled me become an athlete at a professional level in the Canadian Professional Rodeo. I also became an accomplished tradesman holding a Journeyman Welding License with an Intra-provincial Red Seal, teaching many apprentices the trade and building some nifty machines in the process. I am now a Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology student and aspire to work in medicine or physiotherapy for patients with neurological and musculoskeletal injuries – a passion ignited from being injured so many times through my rodeo career.

The blindness in my right eye dates back to July 2001 when I was bucked off a horse at the Lethbridge Alberta Whoop-up Days Rodeo. I landed on the ground ahead of the horse’s feet; consequently, a hoof landed on my face instead of on the ground. I required reconstructive surgery and have titanium plating and screws holding together my nose, cheek, and the floor of my right orbit where a piece of my hip was grafted to rebuild the shattered bone underneath my eye. The impact of the hoof had torn my retina through the most crucial area for sight leaving me permanently functionally blind.  

I had one close friend whom helped me through my hardest times, even though she did not realize it, and I met many incredible people, some I call family. I now have many brothers (including my two biological ones) and sisters, a mom and dad, a number of nephews and nieces, sisters-in-laws, and a brother-in-law. I never imagined that I would ever have a real “full” family, but all these people have taught me that family is far beyond a genetic association and they are a wonderful addition to the biological relatives that I am very much connected too.  I now have a full family with my wife and our two young daughters – yes I am a mature student.

Despite my cognitive disabilities I have an A , A- GPA. And, when I have time I volunteer as an athletic trainer for various charities and minor sporting events, and for a private physiotherapy clinic. I've worked alongside physiotherapists, doctors, and nurses providing health care to The Ride to Conquer Cancer, the World Police and Fire Games, the BMO Vancouver Marathon, Crankworks, The Cloverdale Rodeo, and many other events. I choose to help out at events such as these because I find the people involved are participating for explicit intrinsic value.

I don’t like to be too serious; I was too cranky for too long to be like that anymore. I like it when I can joke with people and when they tease me with wit. I'm often visiting with colleagues and instructors discussing current events and nerdy kinesiology stuff.

The most important thing I have gathered from my challenges is to persevere, because in the end I am who I choose to be – either a bitter and beaten man, or an accomplished one.

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