Recently a Gold, Silver and Bronze Paralympic medalist traveled through Greenwood. His name is Rudy Garcia-Tolson. Garcia-Tolson had been training for the 2016 Olympic qualifying events, but he had to make a stop here in Greenwood to visit Francois Van Der Watt, CPO, and LPO of Horton’s Orthotics & Prosthetics. Rudy flew to Fort Smith from California. He was in Greenwood to get fitted for a new pair of prosthetic running legs. You see Rudy is a Paralympic swimmer, runner and triathlete for the United States Olympic teams and competed in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Rudy was born with a congestive birth defect called popliteal pterygium syndrome, resulting in a club foot, webbed fingers on both of his hands, along with a cleft lip and palate. His legs were bent in against the bottom of his thighs. He did not have the ability to straighten his legs out. He was born with multiple birth defects that kept him from doing just about any mobile activity. Doctors had operated on him 15 times from the time he was born until he was 5 years old. None of the operations could help Rudy walk or correct the deformities. He had been confined to a wheelchair for the first 5 years of his life. Doctors finally told Rudy that he would never walk or run. After so many operations, he and his family decided that he would be better off as a double amputee with the chance to walk with prosthetics than to never walk at all. So, at the young age of 5 years old, the doctors removed both of his deformed legs right above the knees. To some, the procedure sounded drastic, even cruel. Others thought this to be the wrong direction for Rudy’s young life to be heading. But those that doubted the success of the operation just didn’t know Rudy Garcia-Tolson.
The surgery went as planned and Rudy started to make advancements that were not expected. So many people were amazed at Rudy’s progress after the surgery; things were going very well. They say that when God closes a door, he always opens a window. Boy, did God open a window in the life of Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a child of 5 years and had not taken his first step yet.
Rudy received his first set of prosthetic legs at the age of 6 and had started walking before his 7th birthday. He recalls that moment in his life as if a whole new world that had opened up before him. Rudy was ready to take advantage of his new found surroundings. It was as if he kept pushing and exploring his abilities even further, wanting more from his new legs. At the age of 8 Rudy joined, (as he called it), an "Able Bodied Swim Team." There were no disabled swim teams for him to join at the time. Rudy competed with all the other kids from his neighborhood. Even though he would come in last in the swimming events, all the other kids would cheer him on to the finish. One thing was special about Rudy’s swimming technique. Since he did not have any legs, all of his power came from his upper body strength. No matter what the difficulty, he kept trying and improving as a swimmer. Rudy stated that he knew things were going to change for the better the day he finished before someone else in a swim meet. At that point there was no stopping Rudy from accomplishing his goals. At the ripe age of 8 years old Rudy told people that he would swim in the 2004 Paralympic Games. He also started running track and reaching for even more personal accomplishments at the age of 9.
Not long after that Rudy moved to Colorado Springs to train with the U.S. Olympic team, accomplishing another goal in his life. During the 2004 Paralympic Games Rudy held true to his word and not only competed in the games, but brought home a gold medal in the 200 meter individual medley race and broke the world record in the process of winning the race. He won the gold medal again in 2008 during the Beijing Paralympics, breaking his own world record twice in the process. Rudy also won the bronze medal in the 100 meter breaststroke. At the 2012 London games, he once again broke the world record in the 200 meter individual medley race. Rudy was also the very first bilateral, above the knees, amputee to finish an Ironman Triathlon. Rudy is now training to run a marathon in the future.
Rudy has always been the kind of guy that prefers to say, "Why Not", instead of "Why". Rudy lives by the old adage that tough times just don’t last. He can infect you with his "Can Do" attitude. His relentless positive attitude is simply contagious. He now resides in California and represents the organization, "Challenged Athletes Foundation". He does motivational speaking and mentors young disabled kids. One of his favorite sayings is, "A brave heart is a powerful weapon."