Monday, October 3, 2011

Endurance of a Different Kind

Story by Jannine Myers

Those of you who know me know that I like to write stories about women who do great things in life and who encourage others to do the same. Lately I’ve been following the movements of a woman I know, a woman whom I have known for many years because she happens to be the aunt of my seventeen year old daughter. I’ve been quietly observing her because I’ve always been fascinated by people who demonstrate some type of character strength that I admire. Her story is not so remarkable that it hasn’t been heard before, but I believe it’s still worth sharing, especially amongst a group of women such as yourselves who appreciate a fellow athlete’s tenacious determination to overcome pain and suffering.

Ruth Teina-
Duncan is a name known by almost anyone who has had any type of involvement in the New Zealand or Australian fitness industry during the past ten or more years. Ruth’s career as a group fitness instructor took off in the early 90s when she became recognized as a national and international aerobic champion. It wasn’t long before she was a household name among fitness enthusiasts across New Zealand.

Always smiling
Ruth on stage, doing what she does best - motivating others!
In 2005, a job offer from a friend lured Ruth across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. Ruth felt that she was ready to move on from both a recently ended marriage, as well as her job at Auckland-based Health Club, Les Mills World of Fitness. She began working for a company called Radical Fitness, which at the time was in its infancy stage and under the ownership of one of Ruth's friends. It was also through this friend that Ruth met Ron James Duncan (aka Ronnie, or Sailor), the company's newly hired business manager.

Ruth was intrigued and attracted by Ronnie's quiet demeanor and his strong sense of loyalty and compassion towards others. It wasn't long before her attraction to him was reciprocated, and in 2006 they moved to Queensland to start a new life together.
Ronnie Duncan
One of the things both Ruth and Ronnie had in common was a love of the outdoors, and a commitment to leading physically active and healthy lives. Hence it was no surprise to those who knew them when in 2008, Ruth and Ronnie announced that they were going to do the 100k Brisbane to Gold Coast cycle challenge. The two of them had decided that they wanted to give back to the community by raising funds for a charitable organization and both agreed on the Heart Foundation as their choice of charity. They managed to raise $5000 and in an earnest effort to continue raising more funds, they made a pact to make the cycle challenge a yearly tradition, not knowing then that only Ruth would continue to do so.
Brisbane to Gold Coast Cycle Challenge 2008

In May 2009, Ruth traveled home to New Zealand to meet her second grand-daughter who had just been born to her eldest child. Excited to be visiting her family, Ruth was also sad that work obligations had prevented Ronnie from accompanying her on the trip. During their time apart, Ruth and Ronnie kept up daily conversations via phone calls, but both missed each other terribly.

On the morning of June 9th 2009, Ruth anxiously awaited her morning phone call from Ronnie, but was surprised to see an unrecognized caller ID when her phone rang. She was quickly alarmed when she answered her phone and heard the voice of Ronnie’s daughter screaming for her to go home. Seconds later, a man whose voice she did not recognize identified himself as a paramedic and then regretfully informed her that Ronnie had passed away at approximately 5:30am that morning, due to suspected heart failure.

In an ironic twist of fate, the disease which Ruth and Ronnie had vowed to fight against also ended up being the disease that took Ronnie's life. An autopsy revealed that Ronnie, a supposedly 47 year old fit and healthy male, had an undetected form of heart disease known as atherosclerosis. Fatty deposits had collected along the walls of his arteries, blocking the flow of blood to his heart and ultimately resulting in premature death. Nothing could have prepared Ruth for the news she received that day, nor for the days that lay ahead and the challenge which would far exceed any other she had ever faced before.

Ruth describes the eighteen months following Ronnie's death as long and harrowing, with some days worse than others. Getting up and facing each day, says Ruth, was only possible by engaging in lots of motivational self-talk. The depression lingered for months, and when she had almost given up hope of life ever returning to some level of normalcy, Ruth says she woke up one morning and smiled, just like she used to when Ronnie was alive. It was in that moment, she says, that she knew she was going to be fine.

I said earlier that I have been following the movements of Ruth recently, and that’s because she has been traveling around parts of Europe and the United Kingdom, seeing all that she can possibly see and doing all that she can possibly do. She is embracing her life without Ronnie with a new outlook, one that won’t allow her to waste time living from day to day without a plan and a purpose.

Ruth enjoying her vacation with good friends
On the way to the Isle of Skyes
Now back in Australia, Ruth is getting ready to tackle once again, the same cycling challenge that she and Ronnie participated in the year before he died. This Sunday, 9th October, Ruth will ride with friends and family members in honor of Ronnie and all those who have lost their lives to heart disease. Together, under the name Team Sailor, they hope to raise awareness of heart disease, as well as funds to go towards continued research.
Team Sailor - 2010

As I think about the 100k distance they will have to endure, I realize that the physical pain they might encounter pales in comparison to the emotional pain that one must deal with when a loved one is lost. Ruth is an example though, of someone who endured months of despair and heartache, and yet true to her character, she fought back with sheer spirit and determination. She not only overcame the emotional trauma that almost had her believing she would never be happy again, but she overcame it with a desire to live life more generously, with more thought given to how she can help others.

Her actions show us that sometimes the rewards in life are greater when we remove ourselves from the spotlight and step back behind the scenes to quietly nudge someone else forward. Ruth is the kind of role model that female athletes look up to, not because of her prestige as a leading fitness instructor, but because of her genuine desire to give back and help others succeed.

If you wish to “give back” and contribute, or get involved with Team Sailor's fundraising efforts, please visit


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this story. I think it is important to be reminded of how fragile life can be, how important it is to live life fully and to appreciate our health and well being. I will be thinking of Ruth this weekend. Good luck, Ruth - you are not alone!

  2. This story was so, moving, so motivating, what an inspiration! She seems like a beautiful person. Beautifully written as well Jannine Myers. Makes you really appreciate life!! Cheers to her on her ride this week!

  3. Thank you so much, its my pleasure to met you & im sure i'll see you soon in Auckland! such a great link & story! Amir H Behforooz