Local student admires, portrays popular therapist

HARLINGEN – Sawyer Warrenburg has finally met Dr. Ruth.

She met Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a popular therapist and media personality, by playing her character at the 2016 National Speech & Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City earlier this month.

She’s been portraying her at tournaments all year in the dramatic interpretation events.

This was her last competition, and she played her character better than she ever had.

While her performance earned her the distinction of 14 out of more than 300, the most important achievement was having connected with Westheimer so well by playing her.

She’d been working on her performance all year, researching her life, viewing footage of her appearances, learning everything she could.

This last performance brought her face-to-face with the woman who’s inspired her.

“You don’t know someone until you step into their shoes,” said Sawyer, 17, who has just graduated from HHSS.

Dr. Ruth has inspired her because of the ways she’s survived so many tragedies. The German-born Dr. Ruth lost her parents in the Holocaust. She was seriously wounded by an exploding shell during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

“She still came out of it with this amazing sense of humor and optimism about the world and what it has to offer, and she just flourished,” Sawyer said. “She just kind of proves the fact that if you have enough heart and determination, you can really do whatever you want in this world. She always has that big smile.”

Sawyer’s study and portrayal of Dr. Ruth has been a way of connecting with her, perhaps drawing more on her strength and optimism.

An extension of that is the idea of actually meeting her without meeting her.

It could easily be summed up with the scenario of Sawyer pulling into the parking lot at a park one afternoon.

Dr. Ruth sits at a picnic table in the distance, but Sawyer can’t get to her right away. But with every study, with every practice, with every performance, she moves a little closer.

“Every performance was just like a better learning experience for me, just to be able to dive into her character so much more,” she said.

Finally in Salt Lake City, she reached the level of performance she’d yearned for. There was Dr. Ruth, looking up at her with that same big smile. Sawyer sat next to her and they had a long chat.