Nicholas Ruffini's Story

Using the Challenge to Fuel My Ambition

I was very active in high school. I played pretty much every sport I could - I did martial arts, football, track, cross country, and basketball. Being physically fit was important for the sports I played but it was never required to do any outside weight training. I knew I wanted to go to university for academics but would've loved an athletic scholarship. I couldn't pay for school, so I went looking for scholarships from our military. My grades were good enough that I was offered a full-ride scholarship, with stipend, to my local state school from the Air Force as long as I majored in physics (what I was planning on doing anyway). I became your typical university ROTC student, focusing on physical training more so than bodybuilding.

In late September 2014, I started having frequent bowel movements. By October it had gotten so bad that I had developed a small hemorrhoid, which is a big no-go for the ROTC. Instead of doing something about it, I hoped it would go away. By late October, the bowel movements had started to get to me - I was losing energy, starting to drop weight, and over-the-counter remedies did nothing to help. I was hospitalized Thanksgiving break and was prescribed prednisone for the first time. I continued to lose weight, and I continued to have diarrhea. Thanksgiving break is when the pain started. I came back to school for finals week, continuing my medication, to finish out the semester. Loaded up with another six weeks of prednisone, I came back home to my father's house and rested. I took the entire break off, and had to sleep most of it away due to the pain and diarrhea.

By the time the spring semester started again in January, I was down to 180 pounds, white as a sheet from the prednisone, and still having bowel movements five-six times a day. I went to the doctor again and he referred me to a gastroenterologist. That day was the first day I heard the words "inflammatory bowel disease." I was given another six weeks of prednisone at a higher dose and was told to cease all physical activity. Spring semester was our field training (ROTC's version of basic) preparation semester, so I had to nail it in the physical training department so my profile could be as strong as possible for selection. I had also been named the Athletics Officer, a leader for all physical training in the entire detachment. Nevertheless, I continued to charge forward with my training, duties, and classes, all the while living with pain and diarrhea. I was hospitalized for the second time in late-February after the symptoms had gotten worse than ever. I spent four days getting scanned and checked-up on until finally a diagnosis was made - Crohn's disease. Not curable, manageable, but very debilitating.

The strain it put on everything in my life was immeasurable. It put a wedge between everything: my family, girlfriend at the time, friends, classmates, roommates, et cetera. By mid-April, I had managed to squeak by in every respect, and earned a Field Training slot. I was now down to 165 pounds, practically skin and bones. I couldn't pass the Physical Fitness Assessment, but thankfully was exempt because of my being the Athletics Officer. Somehow word made it back to our sergeants that I was on medication and I was forced to bring in all of the paperwork on my diagnosis of Crohn's disease. The same day I received my Field Training flight date was the same day I brought in my paperwork. Finals week was stressful, waiting for word back from headquarters, taking all of my tests, and practicing for Field Training as if I was going.

The word was no I was completely disqualified. My scholarship was gone, stipend gone, and job offer and all other solace gone. I was deemed undeployable, and was therefore not wanted by any other branch at my school. I was completely devastated. I broke up with my girlfriend of three years. I struggled to cope with it all and fell into a deep depression where I continued to lose weight as I started my long-term treatments for Crohn's. Not only had I lost all of my friends in ROTC, I lost my mind, my girl, my scholarship that was paving the way to my academic success, and even my job after school. Everything I had worked for in the past three-four years was riding on that offer.

During the summer though, something clicked. I had an epiphany of sorts, and remembered that I loved to hit the gym and train. As soon as I could walk around and move without too much pain, I was hitting the local gym to see what I could get myself into. Putting on my headphones and being able to deal with reality for an hour or two was the best way for me process what had happened.

I picked myself up and got my act together. I subscribed to forums and started to teach myself training techniques and nutrition. I had to watch what I ate with Crohn's so I could live a normal lifestyle. Why not take advantage of it, eat a lot, and see if I could become a competitive bodybuilder? In 2016, I became a certified Personal Trainer through ACE and am still chasing my dream of becoming an astrophysicist. I will graduate this December with my degree and am planned to attend graduate school to earn to a PhD in Cosmology. My bodybuilding goal is to compete in the National Physique Committee’s Tampa Classic in June 2018 and work towards my International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness Pro Card while in graduate school.