Ailey Ruger, Spanish Teacher and BHS Girls’ Swim & Dive Coach in her inaugural year as head coach, had to make a quick decision to not ride the bus with the team on a chilly February Saturday morning to compete in “Leagues”- the all-important qualifier meet, just a week before States. Coach Ruger had been anxiously awaiting her rushed order of 15 new “LZR Racers”- top of the line racing suits that would give the girls the mental and performance edge they would need to perform their best in Leagues and even qualify for States. The suits could not be ordered until she knew how many girls would need to swim in them that day. Friday night she learned they were not going to arrive in time for the next day’s meet
Saturday morning, as she thanked the assistant coaches for taking her place on the team bus, she called every outfitter on the front range- all of whom were out of stock given the timing in the season. Losing hope, she finally dialed a shop in Loveland and learned that they had just received a fresh shipment. Yes! Instead of hopping on that bus heading south, she hopped in her car and sped north to Loveland, where the kind-hearted merchant even gave her a discount after hearing her predicament.
Coach Ruger pulled into the Veteran’s Memorial Aquatic Center in Thornton shortly before the first starting gun of the League meet. The girls’ faces lit up when they saw Coach Ruger and the brand new high performance suits she was bringing them to wear. They went on to swim their fastest- many girls made it to the finals (top 24), and several finishing within .2 seconds of the State cuts. While this created disappointing near-misses for some, Coach Ruger recalls hearing “I’ll make it next year” in quiet displays of resilience and grit. In all, 15 BHS girls swam at States, with 3 individual qualifiers for 5 individual races and 3 relays. It was a memorable ending to a thrilling first season for Coach Ruger and her 62 swimmers and 2 divers.
The highly coveted LZR Racers, 15 in all with 5 being “top of the line”, were purchased with the help of a Panther Club grant, combined with swimming program funds and a generous grant from the community. Coach Ruger takes exquisite care of these special suits- handing them out just before an important race and collecting them immediately after for proper cleaning and storage until they are next needed. With this diligence, these high performance pieces will see several more qualifiers and State meets, supporting their wearers to achieve PRs in big races for the next several years.
Coach Ruger started her own swimming career at a young age- ultimately swimming for BHS and for the Club team at Rally Sport, earning an athletic scholarship to swim for Colorado State University all 4 years of her college career. After a 3 year hiatus in South America to live abroad and perfect her Spanish, Coach Ruger joined her alma mater in the BHS Spanish Department in 2018, where she is loved and appreciated as a Spanish 2 and 4 teacher. After a long day of teaching, no matter how weary she feels when swim practice starts, she notes “I am almost always in a better head space when I leave”- a testament to her love of coaching. One of the most rewarding aspects of coaching is seeing the mental switch she sees take place in swimmers- for example a swimmer who never looked forward to meets, begging to swim in a relay by the end of the season.
In a moment of reflection, Coach Ruger asks “Does girls’ swimming make incredible humans, or are incredible humans just drawn to girls’ swimming?”. Congratulations, Coach Ruger and the entire Panther Swimming/Diving program, on a successful season, full of personal stories of growth and achievement.