(This story was published in 2004).
By: Amanda Harmon
Rudy Galindo's improbable but decisive win in the 1996 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships taught skating fans never to underestimate his ability to generate a comeback.
His return to his best finish yet in the 2000 World Professional Championships left him determined to come back to try and grab the title in 2001. Not bad for someone HIV-positive who thought his skating days were behind him.
His second-place finish at the December pro championships capped a year that saw Galindo reassert his artistry on ice and dedicate much of his time to educate the world about living with HIV.
Galindo's lungs shut down on him 30 seconds into his energetic ``Prince’’ program in the Feb. 4, 2000, performance of the Champions On Ice Winter Tour in Raleigh, NC. He waved to the audience and abruptly left the ice. He struggled again to compete at the Goodwill Games a few weeks later. Obviously ailing in his televised performance, he withdrew after the technical program, finally convinced of the seriousness of the illness that had afflicted him for well over a month.
Rudy was diagnosed HIV positive in early March while he was being treated for pneumonia. (In a recent article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, he said his lung capacity was at 23% at that time, and he felt his career was over.
He began antiretroviral treatment in later March, announced his HIV status on April 5 in USA Today, and was back on the ice with the Champions On Ice Summer Tour at its April 6 opening in Baltimore. Performing a less physically demanding program, the heartbreakingly poignant and moving "Send In the Clowns" worked perfectly for both Rudy and his audiences. He missed only five Tour stops for scheduled medical tests and to be with his sister, Laura, when she gave birth to her second child.
Vowing to become more active in AIDS related causes and organizations, Rudy began by leading and speaking at the San Francisco International AIDS Candlelight March on May 21. He later became the Honorary Co-Chairman of the National Minority AIDS Council and spokesperson for NMAC's 2000 Summer Campaign against HIV-related anemia. He did a poster on behalf of this campaign. He attended and spoke at the annual NMAC Conference in Atlanta in early October, and hosted the World AIDS Day tribute to the council’s Dr. Beny Primm at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on Nov. 30.
Many felt that Rudy might wind down his career by doing the Champions on Ice Tour and skating in exhibitions and shows, and that preparing to compete would prove too demanding for him. His 1999 competitive season had been disappointing, and Rudy later admitted "something was wrong."
After completing the Summer Tour and a July three-week stint in "Broadway on Ice" at the Andy Williams Theatre in Branson, Mo., Rudy came home to Reno resolved to train and develop new programs for the coming professional skating season.
He was invited to compete in the Grand Slam of Skating in early October, Ice Wars in November, and the World Professional Championships in December. Motivated by wanting to show that an athlete living with HIV could continue to perform at the elite level in his sport, he was determined to have a successful season. These events were televised on FOX, CBS, and NBC, respectively.
Rudy's training consisted of twice-a-day ice time, daily work work in the gym, and Pilates to capitalize on his already outstanding flexibility. He worked on retraining all of his triple jumps, including the triple axel (the most difficult one), and greatly improved his stamina. His sister, Laura Galindo-Black, and he selected the music and did the choreography for all of his programs.
He went directly from the minority AIDS conference in Atlanta to the Grand Slam of Figure Skating in Minneapolis where the audiences and his fellow skaters were overjoyed to witness a remarkable return to his best form.
Rudy skated three new programs flawlessly, successfully completed all of the triple jumps he attempted (maximum four per program), and produced fast spins and spin combinations (including an original combination).
Commentators Rosalyn Sumners and Paul Wylie didn't have to remind anyone about his always stellar artistry and presentation and shared the audience's enthusiasm at his wonderful comeback. Wylie suggested it was as significant as his "momentous" '96 Nationals win. Rudy and Surya Bonaly, skating as a team, made the finals and finished second to Brian Boitano and Yuka Sato in a close match in which all four skaters had clean performances.
Throughout his 2000 competitions, Rudy used a Fosse medley ("Big Spender and "Hot Honey Rag") for his technical program. He also skated to a second Fosse medley at the Grand Slam ("Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" and the rousing "Sing! Sing! Sing!"), and to Mariah Carey's "Can't Take That Away," a song that commentator Jeanne Zelasko called as much Rudy's statement as his music.
In the Ice Wars competition on Nov. 9, difficult ice caused uncharacteristic falls for Rudy and such stalwarts as Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi. However, Rudy was back on track when he introduced a new artistic program to Danny Wright's "Colors of the Wind." Completing a dramatic opening triple axel and skating a beautiful and flowing program, he concluded the event with the top total score of the US Team and the second high individual score in the event.
The World Professional Figure Skating Championships held annually in December at the MCI Center in Washington, DC, is the high point of the competitive professional skating year. Rudy's second-place finish was a remarkable culmination to a season many thought would never be.
Although it's hard to believe Rudy could be defeated on the basis of theatrics, Philippe Candeloro did just that with a "Wild, Wild West" program featuring a saloon entrance curtain to shield three costume changes and some indeed wild, but less than perfect skating. Rudy's "Colors of the Wind" was marred only by a slight turnout on his opening triple axel (done in a poorly lit arena). The skating purists in the audience seemed to much prefer it. Former pairs skater Paul Martini later wrote in an online article in Iskater.com, "The performance that should have won was that of Rudy Galindo of the United States."
This year, Rudy was on the Champions on Ice Winter Tour from Jan. 4 through Feb. 9, and will be on the Summer Tour from March 30 through May 3.