Cleveland’s International Athlete: Lauryn Ruegg


Image provide by Lauryn Ruegg.

By Caroline Diamond, Copy Editor

El Volcan: an isolated community of 400 people situated among the mountains of Nicaragua, and the destination for varsity soccer player Lauryn Ruegg’s summer adventure with Amigos De Las Americas.

Ruegg has taken Spanish for six years. She explained, “As someone who is able to learn another language, why would I not? It opens up so many more experiences for me, like my trip.” Freshman year, an associate from Amigos De Las Americas came to Ruegg’s Spanish class and promoted student exchanges in Latin America. The presentation was made again sophomore year, further piquing Ruegg’s interest in the international volunteerism and language development Amigos had to offer.

Amigos “inspires and builds young leaders through collaborative community development and immersion in cross-cultural experiences,” as stated on their website. After an extensive application process, Ruegg was admitted and began preparing for her first time out of the country.

From December to June of last year, Ruegg and 15 other students around Oregon trained once a month for six hours. These meetings helped students form relationships with one another, and rid of the feeling of being “just thrown in a country,” when the time came. Thinking back to training, Ruegg laughed and said, “They were awful…learning about this amazing thing you’re going to do is fun, but also boring because all you want is to just go do it, but you’re so far away.”

To fundraise, Ruegg sold grapefruits, tulips, and conducted a letter writing campaign. In total, she raised $3,200, despite selling no tulips.

Ruegg flew into Madris, Nicaragua before traveling to her remote mountain community. Others from her training group went to Ecuador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay. In the months leading up to her departure, Ruegg explained, “People were super excited for me. My family was scared, but they trusted me and knew that I was going to learn so much.”

On June 28, two other girls, Zoey and Megan, traveled with Ruegg to El Volcan, which was spread out over two mountains. Ruegg, lived at the top of one, which was frequently engulfed in clouds. She would walk 40 minutes down the mountain everyday to meet her partner Megan who lived at the bottom. The two would then climb the second mountain, another 40 minutes, to meet Zoey.  

During the first week with her host family, Ruegg rarely spoke, and instead focused on understanding her family’s rapid Spanish dialect. Being an introvert, this proved difficult. “I was never alone. I shared a room with two other host siblings. Only speaking one language and never being able to fully express how I felt was hard for me,” Ruegg recalled.

She quickly observed the kindness that the community of El Volcan possessed and studied their ability to sustain entirely off the land. Her family grew beans, coffee, and corn. The only thing they bought was rice. Jokingly Ruegg said, “You don’t really need any of the things we have here, like goldfish.”

A normal day consisted of waking up at 6 a.m. because “that’s when the sun rises, everybody is up, the roosters are crowing, the dogs barking, and the people chopping wood,” Ruegg explained. She would then sit on her family’s porch and drink coffee while eating “pan,” homemade sweet bread. Sometimes, if there was water that wasn’t freezing, Ruegg would shower, otherwise she would journal, and then begin the trek down the mountain to Megan.

The two would play Gin Rummy, while planning their day. Now, Ruegg remembers these hours for their calmness and the feeling of tranquility she grew accustomed to.They would then hike up to Zoey’s or Ruegg’s house and eat beans and rice for lunch, which somehow, according to Ruegg, tasted different everyday.  After lunch, the girls led “compamentos,” which was their designated volunteer activity. During this time, the girls would draw with the village children and play soccer until 5 p.m., when everyone would separate to their family and have dinner.

Back home, soccer is a major component in Ruegg’s life, and that of her family. Ruegg has played since she was four years old and has been on varsity at Cleveland since freshman year. She has played club soccer since fifth grade, both in California and Portland. Currently, Ruegg plays at FC, a soccer club known around the country. This year, Ruegg plays center-mid, a position designated to ball distribution and assists.

To convey her style while playing soccer, Ruegg said, “I get really mad in a way and I always play better when I’m mad. I talk to the refs a lot. If I don’t get involved and angry, I don’t play well and I’m in a kind of fog.”

Ruegg hopes to play division one soccer in college, and dreams of attending Princeton University. However, while she has a continuous love for the game, she explained, “the social aspect gets frustrating. There are so many politics. To be on a good team you just have to know someone these days or have played with the ‘good people’ all your life.” Playing soccer with the children of El Volcan helped Ruegg enjoy her passion without the stressors applied by the soccer industry in Portland. She gained more confidence on the field and the concrete slab they played on in Nicaragua.

Ruegg was able to connect with more teenagers and build relationships through soccer than her partners because neither Megan or Zoey played back home. She said, “They were all surprised that I could kick their butts because I was just this little gringa. I fit in perfectly because I was so small.” The boys Ruegg played soccer with nicknamed her Pirinita and Tirinita. Both names have no translation, however Ruegg believes one means ‘has nice legs in soccer,’ or ‘has short legs.’ While Pirinita means someone who is a baby.

Ruegg was one of two girls that played everyday, and all the boys wanted to be on her team so they could win, which quickly built her confidence. The children and teenagers in El Volcan rarely went to school, causing them all to have limited education. Soccer was the main focus in many of their lives. This helped Ruegg to, “…remind myself that it’s ok to love soccer this much, but not be the best. Soccer is such a universal thing; it’s amazing and kind of beautiful. Every country plays it, there are so many people who love the game.”

Back home, in the midst of Cleveland’s pre-season, Ruegg feels she is in a rut. She explained, “I have to remember the lessons I learned in Nicaragua. Like how chill soccer actually is and that not everyone hates you when you make a mistake… People don’t care if you try something new and mess up; it’s how you react to your mistake that really matters.”