The Paralympics Got Postponed. A Retired Champion Got an Idea.


Along with the remainder of the world, athletes have had their careers upended by the coronavirus pandemic. They are giving The New York Times an intimate have a look at their journeys in periodic installments by way of the remainder of the 12 months.

Rudy Garcia-Tolson thought he was carried out.

He had been to the Paralympics 4 occasions. He had received 5 medals, 4 in swimming and one in observe and area, all by the age of 27.

In 2017 Garcia-Tolson known as it a profession and moved to New York, the place his girlfriend lived. He discovered work at a triathlon studio, picked up some teaching gigs, and began managing a sports activities program for challenged youth. He reversed course for a couple of weeks in 2018, when he determined to begin swimming once more. He couldn’t full a exercise. The fireplace was gone.

And then, in late March, because the novel coronavirus unfold throughout the globe, the International Olympic Committee postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics for a 12 months, and Garcia-Tolson bought the itch to coach and compete once more.

Born with a sequence of congenital defects, Garcia-Tolson grew up in Southern California and had each legs amputated above the knee by the age of 5. At six, he discovered to swim. At eight he joined a swim group, coaching with and racing in opposition to children with two arms and two legs.

At first he all the time completed final. He hated that. “I never accepted the cheers because I knew they were just giving me the pity clap,” he mentioned.

He swore at some point he wouldn’t are available in final. It solely took a couple of months. He received his first gold medal when he was 16. Now he needs to win once more.

An issue — swimming pools in New York stay closed, forcing Garcia-Tolson to restrict his coaching to power conditioning. He will likely be within the water quickly. Next month he plans to move to Colorado Springs to start making ready as soon as extra on the Olympic Training Center.

“I’m basically starting from scratch,” Garcia-Tolson mentioned this week by cellphone from his Brooklyn condo.


This interview has been condensed and calmly edited for readability.

The Paralympics have all the time been big for me. At 9, I set the purpose of desirous to go to the Paralympics. I went to my first World Championships at 14 in Argentina. Two years later I went to my first Olympics in Athens. I skipped the opening ceremony as a result of my occasion was the following morning. I swam 10 seconds sooner than I had ever gone earlier than within the preliminary and broke the world document, and got here again that evening and received the gold medal.

I didn’t assume I might be doing this once more. After Rio, I began to consider attempting to do one thing else and get an actual job. It was all part of my coming to New York. I used to be not getting the itch to compete. I used to be slightly burned out. I attempted to begin coaching in 2018. I might get within the pool to swim for an hour and I might solely make it 20 minutes. I didn’t have the motivation to push myself.

I wanted to separate myself from excessive degree efficiency. Now I don’t wish to. In New York I’ve gone out of my consolation zone. I’ve discovered quite a bit from working. My entire life I really feel like I’ve had individuals attempting to provide me recommendation. When I graduated highschool individuals gave me a tough time for not going proper to varsity. I’ve discovered that is my journey and my life, and I’m going to do what I wish to do. I’ve discovered to make selections alone.

Then all the pieces modified. When I heard that they have been suspending the Paralympics for a full 12 months I actually requested myself if I ought to miss this chance. I don’t wish to sound like I’m making the most of one thing unhealthy taking place, however that is one thing I actually needed to do. I wish to swim once more. I wish to compete once more. I wish to be part of a group.

In New York I’ve been teaching and dealing with New York Road Runners. The entire time I felt like I used to be lacking one thing. I missed the entire coaching atmosphere. It’s a part of who I’m, it’s a part of my life. I needed to step away from part of who I used to be. Now I really feel like I bought a second probability. With all that mentioned, now that I’ve made the choice to return, I might make it to the Paralympic trials and never make the group. It’s a threat. You don’t know what’s going to occur. That is why I really like sport and love swimming

Yes, I’m older. I imagine that will likely be a plus. I’m 31 years previous now. I haven’t been swimming severely shortly. My shoulders are going to harm. I talked to my coach, Nathan Manley, who has skilled me for the Paralympics earlier than. He mentioned it’s a really younger group that we’ve now. He thinks it’s going to be useful to have me round to supply some veteran management.

What goes to occur if I make these massive adjustments in my life and two weeks in I’m like “What am I doing?” Whenever you undergo change, there will likely be unfavourable ideas. I’m going to disregard these. I’m wanting ahead to getting out of my home, going for hikes and walks and having teammates who can inspire me.

I’ve gone by way of powerful occasions earlier than. At the coaching middle, there have been lengthy stretches with no competitors and simply day in and day trip coaching. I’ve had powerful occasions with coaches and with teammates I got here throughout who didn’t wish to carry out at a excessive degree each day. That is contagious on a pool deck. I’ve carried out plenty of yelling on pool decks when somebody shouldn’t be performing or working as they need to.

This shouldn’t be going to be straightforward. I’ve misplaced 10 to 15 kilos of muscle. I’ve slimmed down quite a bit. At the start of the lockdown I used to be working quite a bit. I bought as much as 10 miles a day in Brooklyn, however my legs weren’t becoming appropriately. When I used to be working, cardio-wise I used to be going good, seven-minute miles, an hour or an hour and a half, no downside. It doesn’t take me lengthy.

I’m going to go to Seattle to get new legs made and proceed to do cardio. Plus situps, push-ups, plenty of physique weight train, fundamental calisthenics. I simply want a couple of weeks. I do know after two or three weeks within the pool I’ll really feel again. It will take two to a few months to really feel assured, to know whether or not I’m making a few of the time intervals I would like, and the place I must go.

We don’t know what’s going to occur, however that’s nice. I understand there isn’t any assure that there will likely be a Games. That is out of my management, so I don’t put an excessive amount of thought into it. Whether the Games are held or if there may be some 13- or 14-year-old boy who comes by way of and beats me, nothing is ever 100 p.c locked in.