COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State synchronized swimming program remembers the life and legacy of former Buckeye head coach Dr. Mary Jo Ruggieri, who passed away unexpectedly on March 11. She is survived by her daughter, Elena.
“I can’t even begin to describe the loss of my coach, mentor and friend,” head coach Holly Vargo-Brown said. “Mary Jo’s personality was larger than life and her heart, somehow, was even bigger. Her coaching methods and philosophies were ahead of their time and she was known throughout the world as a true innovator in our sport. For those who knew her, she seemed invincible.”
Ruggieri undertook the creation of synchronized swimming at Ohio State and was the program’s first head coach, having led the club team from 1970-1977 and the varsity Buckeye squad for 19 years from 1977-1995. During her coaching tenure, she secured 17 Overall Institution U.S. Collegiate National Championships, including an 11-year streak to close her collegiate coaching career. Ruggieri helped her student-athletes to 14 trio championships, 12 duet crowns and seven solo titles. Many under her guidance went on to become members of the U.S. National Team and Olympians, and Ruggieri joined the 1987 U.S. National Team as a coach.
The Ohio native attended Ravenna High School and completed her undergraduate studies at Kent State in 1965. She continued her education at Cincinnati, where she earned a doctorate degree in communications, media and administration. A lifelong educator, Ruggieri started her career teaching physical education at Anderson High School while also coaching the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins Swim Club. Ruggieri was also the author of two books, Skin and Scuba Diving (1973) and An Introduction to Synchronized Swimming (1976).
Throughout her career, Ruggieri was an educator and champion for women in athletics. She was known for her unwavering support of Title IX with the intention of providing opportunities for female athletes. She is an Ohio State synchronized swimming legend described as having an intense passion for the sport and women’s representation.
Following her time with the Buckeyes, Ruggieri became a pioneer in the holistic health field. She was a registered polarity therapist at Columbus Polarity and the CEO and founder of E-Wellness Solutions. She was also the director of the Institute of Holistic Health Careers and president of the Great Lakes School of Integrative Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio.
The synchronized swimming program plans to celebrate the life of Ruggieri during a special alumni event this fall.