MAHWAH, N.J. — Paul Ruggeri is the first to admit he crumbled under pressure at the Olympic Trials last summer.
But the U.S. national champion and former Team USA gymnast says his mistake taught him a very important lesson, and he's hoping that some of the athletes he works with at U.S. Gymnastics Development Center in Mahwah and Leonia will learn from it, too.
"I got comfortable," said Ruggeri , 28, the chief operating officer at USGDC.
"Instead of fighting and proving myself, I rested on my laurels and I was a little too cocky. That ended up ruining me in my final moment."
He fell on high bar both days during trials, and didn't give his best performance on floor or vault, he said.
"But," he continued, "in athletics that's how it is. You can't be perfect 100 percent of the time. You have to strive for optimum greatness."
As a teenager, being a professional gymnast seemed a bit far-fetched for Ruggeri. As he got older, it seemed less crazy, as it was the sport that provided him with many opportunities he may not have had otherwise.
The Upstate New York native won four individual titles and one team title in the NCAA, all while earning a bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois.
At 21, he made the men's U.S. gymnastics team, which brought him around the world.
"To be able to represent my school and go down in the history books for a large university was an incredible honor for me," said Ruggeri of Hoboken.
"I remember being young and wanting to study abroad. It was 'just gymnastics' that brought me around the world and really allowed me to have experiences most people never will."
The athlete learned a thing or two about hard work and discipline along the way.
"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something," Ruggeri said.
"All it takes is hard work, dedication and a belief in yourself to make it happen."
Ruggeri says he regrets crumbling at the Olympic trials but figures his future wouldn't have changed much.
"Honestly I would be right here," he said. "This is an amazing opportunity for me to be a part of a company that appreciates me for my gymnastics career, my brain and my education.
"Probably Michele Ribeiro would have found a way to bring me here anyways."