Making History: Meet Keynote Speaker Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger

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Daniel Rudy Ruettiger

Making History: Meet Keynote Speaker Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger

Not often does a person’s determination and grit lead to a movie made about their life. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is one of those rare cases, with his life portrayed in the popular movie “Rudy.” As the son of an oil refinery worker and the third of 14 children, Rudy rose from valleys of discouragement and despair to the pinnacles of success.

It took years of fierce determination to overcome obstacles and criticisms, yet Rudy achieved his first dream—to attend the University of Notre Dame and play football for the Fighting Irish. Before he shares invaluable insights into his mindset and approach to overcoming adversity as a conference keynote, Rudy shared with Paint & Decorating Retailer details of his journey to realize his dreams. 

Paint & Decorating Retailer (PDR): What was it like growing up in a large family and how did those experiences shape you?
Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger (DR): It’s like being in the military. When I was in the Navy, we were very organized and everybody had a job, and growing up in a large family was similar to that. My mother had to be that way because my father worked three jobs; he was very disciplined too. Everybody was synchronized and organized, we ate at the same time and did our chores at the same time.

When you’re from a large family, you’re in survival mode getting through day-to-day life so there’s not a lot of time for dreaming. It’s not that my family didn’t want to help me achieve my dreams, they just didn’t know how because we were so busy and really had no time to think about it. But we did have fun together, playing sports and talking. 

PDR: During your time at Notre Dame, did you ever think that your story would be widely told and positively impact so many people?
DR: Definitely not. Everything I did, I did one step at a time. My first step was to get to junior college and do well there. So I never thought of it as a story or as a movie; that all came later after I looked back and reflected on how I got through it all by achieving the small goals in order to get the big goals. 

PDR: Why is it important to stay focused when pursuing your dreams?
DR: You stay focused when you’re passionate. We dream a lot of dreams, but not all are real dreams, some are just fantasies. When it’s a real dream, that’s when you become focused and determined because you see what it takes to make it happen. You don’t worry about obstacles or challenges, you just move forward, and when they come, you handle them. Some people don’t think the dream is worth it or it’s not for them, but if it’s embedded in your brain and your heart and your soul, it is for you and you need to stay focused to achieve it. 

PDR: What does it mean to you to live with purpose?
DR: Purpose is so important. If you don’t have a purpose, you have nothing. The only reason I went to Notre Dame was for my family, my father and mother. They could not dream that type of dream because they were so caught up just getting through life, jobs and the kids. I guess I wanted to show them the freedom of a dream. I was doing it for them, and every time I wanted to quit I thought about them and it made me work even harder.

Visit to read the Q&As with the IHI Conference’s other keynote speakers, Arthur and Al.