Jill Ruppel sits on the deck at Old Town Hot Springs, her bright green shirt the only thing that can match her pouring enthusiasm.
As the programs director for the facility, Ruppel looks into the future bristling at the possibilities. A 50-meter indoor competitive pool. A high school team at Steamboat Springs High School. Another swimmer from Steamboat competing in the Olympics.
As strange as the journey has sometimes been, Ruppel seems to be right where she should be. She has helped the Steamboat Springs Swim Team boast record numbers and has turned the program into a year-round competitive team. At this point, she doesn’t see any reason to stop.
“She’s turned it from nothing into something significant,” coworker Audrey Earley says. “Her energy and enthusiasm is contagious. She’s just so positive and a joy to be around.”
Ruppel has had to be adaptive. Her husband, Dave, spent 23 years in the Navy. The couple, who recently celebrated their 30th anniversary, moved 11 times in those 23 years.
Although it wasn’t always easy, especially with four children, Ruppel says there’s a bright side to everything.
“You bloom wherever you’re planted,” she says.
It also allowed her to be self-sufficient. And when Dave finally retired from the Navy in 2005 and the family relocated to Steamboat in 2006, all those years of moving around allowed her to fit into the Steamboat community.
She jokes that she got restless every two years in town, wanting to move to another house or another part of town, but when she started at the Old Town Hot Springs, it again gave her a sense of purpose.
“Moving around taught me to plug into a community really fast,” she says. “It taught me to get my kids involved fast.”
It’s always been that way. Ruppel’s four kids — Zach, 24, Lexie, 21, Maddie, 17, and Frank, 14 — grew up around the pool. For them, it was either sit in the bleachers or get in the pool.
Ruppel, who was born in Boulder and went to the University of Colorado, always had an affinity for teaching.
As a nationally ranked baton twirler, she was on the coaching side of things by the time she was 14. “At that point, people were calling me to be their coach,” she says. “I guess I’ve always been a teacher at heart.”
Now, after switching from aquatics director to her new position, Ruppel can see the possibilities in the swim team and the facility. The team, at the beginning of the competition season in June, already had registered top results. Several swimmers already had reached season-ending goals.
For Ruppel, she did it with a simple philosophy. “What has to work is the happiness within the family,” she says. “The goals, no matter what, have to fit the family schedule.”