Meet a Matriot: Dr. Mary Jo Ruggieri

Mary Jo is an author, speaker and researcher, the founder and director of the Institute of Holistic Health Careers and the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. She is a retired assistant professor of 25 years from The Ohio State University, where she also coached national and Olympic athletes in synchronized swimming.  Dr. Mary Jo was a two-time Olympic coach in 1988 and 1992.

1) You were among the first to join The Matriots as a Founding Member in 2017, our inaugural year. What about The Matriots PAC’s work appeals to you?

What appeals to me about The Matriots’ mission, purpose and PAC is very clear:  total focus on the political support of women!  My realization, after the 2016 election was — if we do not rethink the way our country is delivering politics, especially elections, and especially with regards to women’s value in politics, then we will lose everything we have worked and struggled with for 200 years as women.   I was angry, especially coming out of the second wave of the women’s movement in the ‘70s, to realize we were fighting the same battles we were fighting before. I said “no more” will I support a political system that disregards and devalues women in this country.  I chose in a flash to become a Founding Member of The Matriots whose vision aligns with mine and who will focus on a strong support of women in politics.  Together We Can. 

2) You spent many years as a coach at The Ohio State University and led the synchronized swimming team to 17 of 19 national collegiate championship titles, with 11 of those occurring in her last 11 years as head coach, a record that remains to this day among Division I collegiate sport programs. How did that experience influence your desire to see women in leadership?

My experience as a faculty member and as an athletics coach at The Ohio State University definitely molded who I am today.  When I came to OSU in the ‘70s we were in the middle of the Title 9 battle for equality in sports.  I got a crash course in all facets of discrimination against women:  lack of privilege, lack of rights, lack of access, lack of control, and lack of any power to make decisions for ourselves. Many of the great OSU women leaders took us under their wings and taught us what we needed to know to fight with class, think out of the box, and make significant changes that opened up a new world to us.  We stood on their shoulders, learned their secrets of rhetoric of agitation and then followed in their footsteps when they were too tired to fight anymore.  We continued the battle for many years and challenged the glory of the Scarlet and Gray to give women their rights as students and athletes.  This experience influenced us to understand how to build good women into good leaders.    

3) You now focus primarily on integrated medicine and wellness. Tell us a little bit about women’s health as an economic issue that impacts society as a whole.

Having the privilege to coach high-profile women athletes brought me into the field of Integrative, Holistic and Preventive Healthcare. I quickly realized that to truly have optimal health and to grasp the deepest meaning of health, it was necessary for me to broaden my scope of working with young women beyond just the physical. Women’s healthcare issues became very important in understanding that women were not treated equally with regards to access in our healthcare system.  Research was limited on the health conditions of women and women reacted much better to a mind-body approach to healthcare.  Being in a very traditional system of healthcare, I can say that I found myself in another long struggle to get people to believe that what we were doing in a holistic approach to healthcare for women was beneficial.   When I retired from OSU we had already established a Center for Integrative Health and Wellness to benefit our community with a focus in women’s healthcare issues.   

4) You now divide your time between Cleveland and Columbus. What are the political issues that our state faces that you would like to see addressed by the women we are promoting for office?

After meeting many of the women that The Matriots selected to support for political offices, I realized how this support made a big difference. They all spoke about how passionate they were about making significant changes in the state of Ohio for the greater good of women, taking back and protecting women’s rights, women’s choices, and empowering women with economic stability. The reality that Ohio is ranked so low in the USA for women being represented at the political level made it even more important for women to succeed.  The candidates were excited and happy to be part of a focused group that supported them and wanted to help them become a political success.  The Matriots and the group support have given them a voice. The most notable process is seeing all The Matriots and the elected women coming together to support them as candidates.  This reminded me of the support and camaraderie I experienced with the women’s movement in the ‘70s.     

5) Now for something fun: Tell us about your family, a hobby or a personal interest.

As a woman from an immigrant Italian family, with all of my grandparents coming from Italy, I grew up with strong, bold Italian women and men who listened to them and supported them.  Of course, the men would say the women had the power, so do not argue with them; just support them.  My dad was a professional baseball player and I was always in the dugout with his team as the batgirl.  Even then I could never understand why girls did not have teams. My family is a huge focus in my life. I deeply enjoy spending time with my extended family, including my nieces, nephews and their families. The apple of my eye is my daughter, Elena, who graduated from Columbus School for Girls and now at 24 is in animal biology and wildlife management. She is a very empowered young woman who wants to become an advocate for animals and the environment. It gives me great personal satisfaction whenever I am able to travel the world, speaking and teaching about women’s health issues. I especially enjoy going to holistic centers and spas, where I can get hot stone massages, polarity therapy, detox and good yoga classes.  My favorite place is in Austria outside of Vienna called Rogner-Bad Bluma!

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