It seems like a lifetime has passed, but it was just two years ago that Rudy Galindo was pedaling his bicycle to practice at the local ice rink each day, barely scraping by to get his final shot at being a champion.
Today, Galindo marvels at how things have changed, thanks to one dramatic moment on the ice at the 1996 U.S. Figure Skating Championship.
He can still hear the applause, the hometown crowd in San Jose chanting his name, the adrenaline rush of the performance of his career. He had won.
“It was a miracle,” Galindo said. “Everyone will always remember me for that moment; people come up to me all the time and say, ‘I was there when you won. I cried.’ Nothing can ever take that moment away.”
What made it all the more fantastic was the way Galindo got there.
In the space of a few short, painful years, he lost his father to a heart attack, and his brother and a coach to AIDS. His doubles partner, Kristi Yamaguchi, dropped him to focus on her successful singles career. And Galindo, who had always been on the fringes of amateur skating, fared poorly at the 1995 nationals in Providence, R.I.
Tired and heartbroken, he considered calling it quits.
But with the next year’s nationals in his hometown, Galindo decided to give it one more shot.
With little money, he lived with his mother in a trailer park and rode his bike to the San Jose Ice Centre for practice.
“He had a different frame of mind and you could see a whole different person out there training,” said Laura Galindo, his sister, coach and manager. “I didn’t have to yell at him and tell him to do the programs. He did what he had to do.”
What he did - coming out of nowhere to win the national title - added a memorable chapter to his amateur career. In the process, he also become the first openly gay and Mexican-American U.S. champion.
“My life has changed a lot. It’s a lot better now. With all the struggles I’ve been through, I think I finally deserve a break, and this is a good break,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about where my next dollar is coming from.”
Now a professional, Galindo is no longer eligible for competitions like the nationals or the Olympics. He skates in ice shows and participates in the pro competition circuit - very lucrative pursuits.
“I take care of my mom and my sister now,” he said. “My dad did it for so many years, so now, I have a chance to do it for them, so it makes me feel good inside to do that.”
Most recently, he placed second behind Victor Petrenko in the U.S. Professional Figure Skating Championships. He’s also scheduled to appear in the world championships in Washington in December.
No longer constrained by amateur rules and strict judging, Galindo is clearly relaxed on the ice. In one of his newer programs, he wears a fringed red jumpsuit and performs to music from television’s “The Brady Bunch.”
“I’m so excited to be part of the professional tour. I’ve always watched it on TV and I always thought it would be great to make it to that level so you can be creative, and skate to music with words, and be able to enjoy it,” he said.
Looking back over the past two years, Galindo shakes his head in amazement. Then his face lights up with a smile and he talks about how lucky he is to be able to do what he has always wanted to do: perform.
“What get me psyched is the applause at the end,” he said. “Knowing that from the beginning, you learn your program, you get the music, your choreographer, then you hear the audience applauding you and you get your final bow. I look forward to that. That’s what keeps me going.”