Monday, December 14, 2009

Rudy did it!

(Courtesy of Sam)

This is from Cherie Gruenfeld 8 time, IM Hawaii age group world champion.

I'm sometimes asked where I find my inspiration and my answer has always been the same: While I admire the professional racers for their amazing athletic talents, my true inspiration comes from the amateur athlete who must over com e daily obstacles and challenges in his or her life. This group includes moms and dads raising a family, the older athlete fighting against the clock, and the physically challenged.

Last weekend I witnessed an inspirational moment that tops all others. Rudy Garcia-Tolson became the first double above-the-knee amputee to finish an Ironman. Rudy, who is twenty-one, has been a friend of mine since he was seven, so I've had the privilege of following the journey that led this amazing young man to his first Ironman finish line.

In 1995 I was swimming in a pool when I discovered I'd been joined in my lane. I quickly noticed that this fellow-swimmer was different from me in several ways: He was moving at the speed of a torpedo; he was a very young kid; and he had no legs. That was my introduction to Rudy and, on that day, I learned his story. Rudy was born with a disease that left him with useless legs. After 12 unsuccessful surgeries by the age of 5, he was told that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Imagine the courage for a five year old to say…”Cut ‘em off.”

I fell in love with this kid and his family. There were three able-bodied children in the family and Rudy, who was a bundle of energy and kept them all jumping. And with prosthetic legs, he was a study in constant motion. When I met him, he was already exhibiting signs of great athletic ability and excelling in the swimming pool. I shared with him my experiences as an Ironman athlete and several months later he and I did a triathlon. We raced as a relay team: Rudy swam, his older brother biked and I ran. The seed was planted.

With his spunk and positive attitude, Rudy won hearts everywhere he went and soon he had major supporters including Terry Martin from Power Bar and Bob Babbitt from the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Rudy was in good hands and his career as a challenged athlete took off. He began racking up swimming titles and world records, ran a 6-minute mile and started riding a bike.

And another thing happened: Rudy discovered that he had become a role model. Somewhere there were other kids being condemned to a life in a wheelchair or being told that an amputation or other physical challenge meant an end to an active life. Rudy realized that with his success came great responsibility and, as with all challenges in his life, he was happy to take this one on.

Rudy has proved himself to be one of the world's top challenged swimmers, owning three Paralympic medals (2 gold and 1 bronze). Now Rudy had another dream. He wanted to be the first double above-the-knee to finish the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Rudy's motto is: “A brave heart is a powerful weapon”. His brave heart had helped him accomplish every tough goal he'd ever taken on. But the question remained (for everyone except Rudy): Can someone without quads or hamstrings cycle 112 miles through winds and over hills? Is it possible? In October, Rudy made the attempt on the Kona course and came up short when he missed the bike cut-off time by a few minutes. This wasn't failure – it was simply a deferral of success. Being an impatient man, Rudy took the lessons he'd learned in Kona and went to the Arizona Ironman in November.

On race day his goggles broke seconds before the cannon started the race. No problem – he swam 2.4 miles without them. On the bike he got a flat. No problem – he fixed it and moved on. He was fighting against a 5:30 p.m. deadline on the bike. No problem – he finished 112 miles with thirty minutes to spare.

Then came the run. The focus of Rudy's training had been on the bike, which was to have been his biggest challenge. He'd never run a marathon before. No problem – the kid is a good runner and he's got a brave heart.

However, during the marathon Rudy had some of the darkest moments he's had in his athletic life. Those who saw him during those moments wondered if this was perhaps not possible. Those who knew him didn't know how he was going to do it, but knew that he somehow would.

With three miles to go, somewhere deep inside, he remembered all those kids who were looking to him to see what was possible in their lives. And he picked up his body, which moments before had been betraying him, and he didn't just run the last three miles – he blazed, passing other runners on the course who had given up on him. He raced to the finish line where thousands who had been waiting for this moment watched with tears of joy and amazement. Rudy's performance that day not only changed his life: It changed the life of physically challenged people all over the world.

Next goal: Go back and do it in Kona where it'll be tougher. But I wouldn't bet against Rudy.

I'm proud to call him my friend and my inspiration.

Simon says: - What is there say? Truly inspirational, we are insignificant compared to guys like this.


yipwt said...

Very won't want to DNF in IM after reading this.

plee said...

I read the Ironman write up abt Rudy and was truly touched. In the run his back was killing him as it was the back and hip muscles powering his steps. It came down to just making it to every next aid station having some broth and then moving on.... until he finished.

What a Champion!!!