— Rudy Garcia-Tolson (@RudyGTcaf) June 28, 2013
Close friend of Robin Williams and champion Paralympic athlete Rudy Garcia-Tolson knows firsthand how much Williams contributed to triathlon and to raising the profile of physically challenged athletes. Born with popliteal pterygium syndrome (a condition in which webbing of the skin limits mobility) Garcia-Tolson had both legs amputated above the knee so he could use prosthetics more effectively at age 5. At 6, he began swimming and 10 years later won gold at the 2004 Paralympic Games, breaking a world record in the 200-meter individual medley.
In 1996, Garcia-Tolson began participating in triathlons as the swimmer on relay teams. He first met Williams at a Malibu triathlon in 1997 and began a deep and supportive friendship. In an interview with The Post Game blog, Garcia-Tolson explained, “It was almost mythical,” Garcia-Tolson said. “I was the kid that had the big movie star as a friend.”
“I will always carry Robin with me,” Garcia-Tolson said. “We will really miss him this year.” He also explained the depth of Williams’s appreciation for cycling.”He would even go to the tour de France,” Garcia-Tolson said.
Together with Scott Tinley, Williams formed that led to the formation of Team Braveheart in the annual triathlon for the San Diego based Challenged Athletes Foundation. For 11 years, Garcia-Tolson did the swimming, Williams did the cycling and Tinley finished it with the run.
Williams’s involvement created “much more exposure for people with the same circumstances as me,” Garcia-Tolson said. “He genuinely understood the daily problems of an amputee. … He would even bring other celebrities to the events like Jim Carrey and Will Ferrell. It did a lot to bring attention to the foundation.”
Now 25, Garcia-Tolson remembers Williams’s continuous effort to make others smile. “He just went full speed with it,” he said. “I think he knew from a young age that making people laugh was his gift, so him in reality was the same as on camera.”
“He was really interested in my legs, how they worked; he had an engineering mind,” he said. “He genuinely understood the challenges we faced more than most people.”
In 2010, Garcia-Tolson, was nominated by ESPY for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. He was the first double amputee to ever complete an Ironman in 2009. Next, Garcia-Tolson will turn his attention to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where he hopes to compete in both swimming and track and field.