Oct. 26, 2009
Growing up in Annapolis, Mary Ruttum
was always keen to the strong bond shared between Midshipmen - both past and present.
She had witnessed the camaraderie and fervor in which Academy grads descend en masse onto the Yard and out to Navy football games on Saturdays during the fall.
And later, she experienced that same sense of unity first-hand upon participating in the Academy's Summer Seminar program, which ultimately drove her college decision.
"I came to the summer seminar and really found myself enjoying the pace of life here," said Ruttum, now a senior and standout attacker on the Navy women's lacrosse team. "The closeness I saw between the Midshipmen and how everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy working together - it sold me. I knew it would be an experience you wouldn't find at another college or university."
She was right. In choosing to attend the Naval Academy, she sought something more, something larger than herself. And in her three-plus years on the Yard, it has been that very same desire and motivation to push her own limits which has fueled this hometown girl's success.
"I can honestly say that I have been challenged in every way imaginable," said Ruttum. "Whether it is academically, athletically or mentally, everyday you are pushed. I have failed plenty of times and there is always something I can improve in, but as tough as it gets at times, the payoff is worth it."
In spite of her admission, a glance at Ruttum's profile makes it clear that failure, while inevitable, has not been a recurring theme for this talented senior.
A systems engineering major, Ruttum ranks 87th in overall order of merit among 1,064 midshipmen in the Class of 2010. Academically, she is also near the top of her class with a 3.67 grade-point average and a sterling 3.91 grade-point average in classes within her major.
On the lacrosse field, Ruttum has been one of the main catalysts in the rapid ascent of the Academy's upstart women's program, scoring 67 goals and racking up nearly 100 points in its first two seasons of varsity ball.
Perhaps her most impressive exploits, however, have come within her company, where she has shown herself to have a bright future as a Naval officer.
Since the beginning of her freshman year, Ruttum has improved more than 300 spots in her class in military order of merit to where she currently stands at 33rd. Moreover, she has garnered recognition on the Commandant's and Superintendent's Lists each of the last five semesters.
A year ago, Ruttum began becoming a more active participant in the leadership within her company, serving in the role of First Sergeant. Come spring, she decided to put herself up to a greater challenge and as a result, now finds herself in the top leadership position a Midshipman can hold within one's company as the Seventh Company Commander.
"I figured while I was here I would try to take advantage of as many opportunities as I possibly could," said Ruttum. "I knew it would be a different sort of experience. I knew it would be busy, but also really worthwhile as well. It has definitely been a lot of fun and already has taught me a lot about myself."
As one would imagine, being tasked with overseeing the daily activities of 162 midshipmen could prove arduous. As she describes it, her responsibilities include ensuring her company mates are "not cutting corners" and "doing all the little things", all while also being charged with helping keep up morale.
On any given day, her to-do-list includes anything from making sure everyone shows up at formation to helping underclassmen try to navigate through their nascent days on the Yard. While the position certainly places increased demands on her time, the greatest challenge she's encountered, however, is one that afflicts leaders in all walks of life.
"I think the toughest thing is dealing with motivation," said Ruttum. "It is easy to just give direction, but it is an another whole thing trying to find a way to get people to want to do their jobs, and want to do them well."
It has been one of Ruttum's goals within her company to foster a family-like atmosphere. She knows there is a fine line between being a leader and being one's boss - and continually strives for the former. Her experience, thus far, has been humbling.
"I enjoy having the responsibilities of managing the company, but I know that I am in no way doing a perfect job at it," said Ruttum. "I love that I get to learn from and work with such a wide variety of people and personalities. I enjoy getting to know, work for and stand up for each individual person in my company.
"I've been taking stumbles all over the place, but I think it has helped provide a sense of responsibility I didn't previously have and I feel like I owe it to those I am going through this with to give it my best shot."
Of course, the position is not without its perks either. In her role as company commander, Ruttum has enjoyed the opportunity to see how things operate on a higher level. It also puts her front and center during the march-on of the brigade - an ageless tradition during Navy's home football games.
"Leading my company onto the field for the first time was definitely a cool experience," said Ruttum. "It reminded me of when I was a freshman and we marched onto the field for that first game. You go through plebe summer and you get pretty worn down, but I still that remember feeling when we walked onto the field.
"And it wasn't even when they announced our company, but after we all formed off and they introduced, 'The Brigade of Midshipmen', and the whole crowd just went crazy. It is definitely a special feeling for everyone when the Brigade as a whole is acknowledged like that. "
Rather than hearing her name announced, it is the acknowledgement her company and the entire brigade receives that resonates most with Ruttum.
"It really gives you a sense of appreciation and lets you know that people think so highly of what we are here for. I think everyone feels a little proud at that moment."
Ruttum, of course, is no stranger to the grounds at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where she has had a hand in several memorable moments over the last three springs as a standout attacker on Navy's lacrosse team.
It began on February 23, 2008 with the program's first-ever varsity game - a contest which saw Ruttum score four goals and ended in a 21-10 Midshipmen triumph over Longwood.
And that was just a precursor of things to come for the Navy women, who have hit the ground running during their short Division I tenure.
The Midshipmen's inaugural spring wound up being one for the record books, as Navy established a new NCAA high-water mark for wins by first-year program with 13.
When all was said and done, an underclassmen-laden Navy squad had its first Patriot League Tournament berth, a perfect 11-0 mark on its home turf and were the owners of the third-most proficient scoring offense to date in NCAA history, averaging 16.65 goals per game.
With its second fully-recruited class in the fold, year two saw the Mids put together another 13-win season in 2009 and, more importantly, saw Navy take the next step as a program in advancing to its first-ever Patriot League Championship Game.
As for the very-modest Ruttum, who describes herself as more of a supporting player, after pumping in 65 goals and handing out 30 assists as a freshman during Navy's transitional year, she has scored at least 30 goals in each of the first two varsity seasons. She enters this spring as the program's second-leading scorer with 97 career points (67 g, 30 a) in just 35 games.
"Mary is a real competitor and has been a tremendously consistent contributor for us," said Navy head coach Cindy Timchal. "She is very unselfish, she has great game-sense and is someone we know we can count on to make smart decisions and get the job done in a tough spot."
A talented three-sport high school athlete locally at St. Mary's, Ruttum had never expected to continue her career as a Division I athlete, let alone play for the sport's all-time winningest coach in the legendary Timchal.
When it was announced that women's lacrosse would be elevated to varsity status, she was only a few weeks away beginning plebe summer. To no surprise, Ruttum has made the most of what has been a very unique opportunity.
"Being a part of the first-ever Navy women's lacrosse team and helping to build the foundation for this program is something I will always cherish," said Ruttum. "I already knew I was coming here, so obviously the chance to continue playing came as a major surprise."
The rest, as they say, is history. With the fall semester now in full swing and the women's preseason schedule now underway, Ruttum and her classmates prepare for their final year on the lacrosse field with high hopes.
"We should be one of the contenders in the league this year," said Ruttum. "We've taken another step each year. Now, we have even more experience with our seniors having been part of the program since day one. We have a talented group of freshman and even though the Patriot league is always tough, hopefully we will make a good run and compete for a championship."
Although excited about what the future holds past this spring, she knows that when May's commencement comes - her time at the Academy will be sorely missed.
"This last year is going to be really bittersweet in all aspects of what I am doing," said Rututm. "While there is so much to look forward to as far as graduation and getting into the fleet and everything I have been preparing for over the last four years, at the same time I am not sure I am ready to let it go quite yet."
With that in mind, Ruttum is focused as the spring season approaches and intent on making the most of her final season.
"My goal is to make it all count, not be cynical and really take it all in. I know I am going to miss it all: every sprint and all the little stuff we tend to complain about from day-to-day. When I am done with my last game, I want to walk off the field with no regrets."
As far as her future in the Fleet, Ruttum hopes to go the route of Naval Aviation. She came in with the desire to fly and throughout her summer training it's been the area she has found herself most inspired to continue.
"I really took to the aviation community. There seemed to be a great sense of closeness and all the officers really looked like they had a strong passion for what they do. Plus, I've loved the opportunities I've had to fly. When it's just you and you're up there in the clouds - it is pretty amazing."
Growing up in Annapolis, Ruttum had always sensed something special in the opportunity to attend the Naval Academy. And although she only had a few miles to travel to begin her journey, to no one's surprise, over the last four years the impact she has made as a midshipman has been far-reaching and undeniable.
## GO NAVY! ##