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Utah bobsledder gets Olympic surprise - his family
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bill Schuffenhauer already had tears in his eyes, by the time he rounded the corner and saw his fiancée and young son waiting for him.

He never thought it would happen.

Not after losing his job, his home and his car -- all in his drive to push a bobsled at the Vancouver Olympics. After all that, the 36-year-old former Weber State University decathlete from Ogden knew he didn't have enough money to pay for his family to join him.

But after hearing the story about how Schuffenhauer grew up practically homeless on the streets of Salt Lake City, his parents adrift and addicted to drugs, an inspired employee at Olympic sponsor Proctor & Gamble arranged to have Schuffenhauer's family flown into town to see him compete in the four-man bobsled that begins Friday at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The reunion Monday at the company's "Family House" downtown was a surprise, and turned the 6-foot, 220-pound strongman into a puddle of tears.

"It has been a fantastic experience, probably the best experience I've ever had in the Olympics," he said between sniffles. "And now, with this, nothing's ever going to be able to compare."

Schuffenhauer already has competed in two Olympics, and won a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

But his unquenchable passion to represent the United States at the Olympics led him to quit his job in business payroll services at Wells Fargo bank about two years ago, in order to train full-time. That left his fiancee, Ruthann Savage, to support the family financially with her job as a labor and delivery nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

That was tough.

And once the economy crashed, things grew even harder.

Potential sponsors dried up. Schuffenhauer was seldom home, off competing on the World Cup circuit in Europe. He tried to cut corners, eating fewer meals and skimping on training supplies, but still needed thousands to afford his commitment.

And then there were the kids to support; Schuffenhauer also has a daughter from a previous marriage, whose attendance at the Olympics couldn't be arranged.

The mountains of debt soon piled up.

Before long, the bank was coming for the house -- her house -- and his car. The family now lives in a small apartment in Ogden, though 4-year-old Corben was happy to list the complex's pool and hot tub as fun amenities.

Schuffenhauer wasn't even home to help Savage move.

Nor did he buy her an engagement ring for when he asked her to marry him three months ago -- over the phone from where he was training in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Couldn't afford it.

But the couple has been together since before the 2006 Turin Games in Italy, and Savage said she's thankful her son will get to watch Schuffenhauer compete.

"I sacrificed so much for our family to be here that I feel much more a part of it" than she did four years ago, Savage said, wiping away her own tears. "It means a lot for me to be out here, and for my son to actually see with his own eyes the significance of what his father has done. ... He thinks we're going to Park City, because that's the only place we've seen Billy bobsled."

Schuffenhauer will push for pilot Mike Kohn, who drives the USA-3 sled, after nearly having his dream end when his previous driver, veteran Todd Hays, was forced to retire midseason because of a severe concussion.

That was just another hurdle in a long line of them for Schuffenhauer, who said he has persisted in pursuing his Olympic dream because of his troubled childhood.

"I came from pretty much nothing," he said, recalling how he panhandled and ate out of garbage dumpsters before finding success in track and field at Roy High School and later WSU. "It was just important for me to continue as much as I could."

Schuffenhauer also never wanted to look back and regret retiring too soon.

"It's just the passion of having the honor to represent your country that just means so much to me, and hopefully my kids see that," he said, so that "whatever their passion is, growing up, they pursue it with their heart and soul, and see that their dad did everything he could" to keep going, too.

"For me to be here, represent my country and have my family here to share it with me means more to me than anything in the world," he said.

Arrival of fiancée and son brings Utah athlete to tears.
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