Give him time. This is all just a little unreal, as if he has
had way too much coffee and has been up for three days without
sleep. One day Rudy Galindo is riding his bike around San Jose
in the rain because he can't afford a car--3 1/2 miles to the
rink, four miles to the gym, eight miles back to his mother's
trailer home; sweaty, soaked and sad; broke and nearly broken by
life at the age of 26; angry and bitter at a seemingly endless
string of bad luck--and the next thing you know, some accountant
is explaining why he needs both a personal and a business credit
card. Weird. Rudy looked at his older sister and coach, Laura,
who has been the anchor in his roller-coaster life, and gave her
a roll of the eyes that said, Who in their right mind would give
me a credit card? Check the bank records, pal.
Then there was the guy at the Chevy dealership. Galindo has
wanted a Corvette since he was a boy, and it turned out that the
salesman had seen him win the U.S. figure skating championship
on Jan. 20, right there in his hometown of San Jose, and was one
of his many new fans. Test-drive a Vette for an hour? No
problem. Why don't you take the little beauty all day? All we
need is a look at your insurance card....
Rudy turned to Laura. "For a bike?" he cracked.
So the salesman had Laura, who did have insurance, fill out the
appropriate forms. And Rudy got behind the wheel. But after
driving the Corvette for an hour, never even getting it into top
gear, Rudy pulled over to the side of the road, his hands
literally shaking. "I shouldn't be driving this," he said.
Too much had happened too fast. "I feel almost like I've had an
out-of-body experience and I haven't come back yet," Galindo
says. "It's irritating. I miss myself."
Even now, with the world championship in Edmonton a few days
away, Galindo, who is the oldest U.S. men's figure skating
champion in 70 years, each day half expects to wake up and find
his title has vanished as mysteriously as it appeared. That it
has all been another cruel joke. So many of the things he has
cared about have been suddenly, irrevocably taken that almost
anything is easier to believe than that Dame Fortune has at last
taken her foot off his throat.
So give him time. Galindo will get used to the changes soon
enough. He'll get accustomed to having enough money to buy
whatever he pleases, and not just the necessities he has
purchased since winning the national championship, such as a
camcorder to tape his practices. And a pair of Nikes. And a
dress and leather jacket for Laura, who coached him for a year
without pay. "I'd like to save all my money for Laura's future.
The way I look at it, I made it without money," Galindo says.
"Why do I need all this stuff now?"
He'll get used to his new role as a hero in the Mexican-
American community--his grandparents on his father's side were
Mexican--although he cannot speak Spanish. Michael Rosenberg,
Galindo's agent, who is another newcomer in Rudy's life, has
given him Spanish tapes to study in the hopes he'll become
conversational by summer. "If he hits at the worlds, why
wouldn't I have him tour Mexico City and South America?"
Rosenberg asks. "Rudy Galindo y Amigos. He's the biggest
Hispanic name the skating world has ever seen."
And given time, he'll grow more comfortable with being something
of a media sensation as the first openly gay U.S. skating
champion, a mantle that says more about the obsessive secrecy of
untold numbers of previous champions than any wish Galindo has
to have his private life discussed in public. When he was an
eighth-place finisher, no one cared about his sexual
preferences. Now that he's champ.... "People say to me, 'You're
out.' Well, yeah. I'm out. So what? I don't flaunt it. Other
skaters who are so-called in the closet stay there because of
endorsements. I don't want the mega-endorsements. I'm happy with
the title and what comes along with it."
Opportunities, yes. But also respect. What has been most
overwhelming has been the reception Galindo has gotten from the
ordinary man on the street--heartfelt congratulations from a
broad band of strangers. "Seems like I've got more support from
the straight community than the gay community," he says. "Big
macho guys come up to me and say, 'You made me cry.' Everyone in
San Jose seems to know me." He shakes his head. "The only thing
that bugs me is when people say, 'Skate the way you did at the
nationals and you'll be world champion.' I don't want to let
Skate the same way as at the nationals? Why not ask for a
rainbow in a bottle? Galindo might hit every triple, replicate
every gesture and move just as arrestingly from beginning to
end. But he will never skate quite the same way because, well,
the first time happens just once. That he should finally show
everyone what he could do, in his hometown, on the eve of giving
up competitive skating so he could coach youngsters full time
and actually earn a living--that's part of the magic. Clearly,
Galindo will never again skate with as much at stake or as
little to lean on.
"Rudy became a whole person this year," Laura says. "He
confronted all the issues in his life and stopped putting the
blame on everyone else. There was a different kind of fight in
Rudy this year. He had so little, and he wanted to give
something to Mom."
Their mother, Margaret, has suffered emotional problems since
her husband died. She no longer drives a car and seldom goes out
of the trailer park in which her children grew up. Rudy shops
for her, cleans for her, keeps track of the bills. She doesn't
want to move--all her memories are in that trailer--so Rudy's
going to buy her new furniture with some of his newfound wealth.
"Once my dad passed away, she kind of hung up her gloves," he
says. "I just wish I could have given something back to him: a
vacation, a new car. All the things he couldn't afford so I
Jess Galindo was a truck driver--very strict, very loving--who
made a regular run between San Jose and Las Vegas for United
Technologies Corp. He could barely read or write, so Laura, who
is five years older than Rudy, kept his books for him. He taught
her to drive his 18-wheeler on I-5 when she was 13. "That's how
much he trusted me," she says. "That's why Rudy depends on me."
Laura was like a surrogate mother. Drugs and gangs were common
around the trailer park, and Jess wouldn't let Laura or Rudy go
out with other kids. But he encouraged their skating, since the
Eastridge Ice Arena was five minutes from home. Laura started at
age 10, and Rudy tagged along. "We were in bed by 7:30 almost
every night," she says, "then up at 4:45 to do our figures
before school. All the extra money went to skating."
It was a constant strain. Laura remembers her father looking at
a house for $89,000, a house that now would be worth four times
that much. He wasn't sure he could swing it and still pay for
their skating, so he bought a bigger trailer. He paid for Rudy
to take ballet lessons to refine his style, training that led to
two perfect 6.0 artistic marks at this year's nationals.
"Sometimes I'd hear arguments at home about the bills, but Dad
never asked me to stop," Rudy says. "And Laura paid for some of
my lessons when she worked at Taco Bell in high school."
Galindo was a fine singles skater--he was third in the world
juniors at 15--but pairs was his first love, and he eventually
specialized in that. His partner was Kristi Yamaguchi, and
together they won the 1989 and 1990 U.S. championships. Had they
stayed with it, they were a good bet to win a medal in the 1992
Olympics, which would have been the end of his family's money
problems. But the roof fell in when Yamaguchi told him she was
giving up pairs to focus on her singles career. "April 26,
1990," he says ruefully. "I guess I knew it would happen. You
hear comments from other skaters. But Kristi had never said
anything. We were like brother and sister, then we just went our
So did their fortunes. Yamaguchi won the 1992 Olympic gold and
launched a lucrative professional career. Galindo, returning to
singles rather than attempting the impossible task of finding a
partner of Yamaguchi's skills, floundered. He finished 11th at
the nationals in '91 and eighth in '92. "He never said one bad
word about Kristi," Laura says. "He just bottled it up."
As his career backslid, the personal tragedies began to pile up.
Jess Galindo died of a heart attack in 1993, imbuing in Rudy a
deep sense of guilt for never having been able to pay him back
for his sacrifices. Rudy's brother, George, who is 10 years
older and had left home at 18, was stricken with AIDS and moved
back into the trailer in '92. He, too, was homosexual. Margaret
had gone into a shell following her husband's death, so Rudy,
who had been living with friends, moved back to help care for
George in his dying months. It wasn't Rudy's first exposure to
the disease. Jim Hulick, the coach who had paired him with
Yamaguchi, had died of AIDS-related cancer back in 1989.
"I gave my brother baths," Galindo says. "I'd take him to the
hospital for his treatments, and he would barely be able to
walk. I was angry that I was the one who had to take care of
him. Then near the end, he didn't recognize me. AIDS patients
often suffer from dementia, and he'd go, 'Who are you?' He'd
hide from me under the bed. I had to leave for a competition in
Vienna, and I had a feeling he wouldn't make it. I kissed him
and told him I loved him, and he kissed me and told me he loved
me. Then he died the same time I was doing my long program. I
came right home. That was hard. I went from the ice to the
Galindo began drinking too much, training too little, feeling
bitter and sorry for himself. In 1995 his second coach, Rick
Inglesi, also died of AIDS. The only place Galindo felt comfort
was on the ice, expressing himself through his skating, yet when
the pressure was on, he always made a mistake. After finishing
eighth at the '95 nationals, Galindo convinced himself that
because he was openly gay and skated with more sensitivity than
athleticism, he would never get the marks from U.S. Figure
Skating Association judges--a notoriously conservative lot--to
finish in the top three. "When you get to the nationals, these
guys ... they're really butch when they skate," Galindo told
Christine Brennan in Inside Edge, her book on the world of
figure skating. "They're just jump-jump-jump. Our American
judges like that. They want just conservative, just really macho
He has since toned down that rhetoric. "American judges tend not
to be as receptive to the artistic style of skating as European
judges," he says. "It's difficult to pinpoint, but I thought
sometimes my being gay was an issue. Maybe they didn't like it
when I did ballet moves, or held my arms a certain way.
Sometimes people would say, 'Your style is so flamboyant, or
your costumes are so flamboyant,' and I relate flamboyant to
being a code word for gay. Though when you're angry you tend to
blame your losses on anything."
The truth was that Galindo could never credibly accuse the
judges of costing him a medal until he skated a mistake-free
short program and was denied the marks. It never happened. "He
was blaming everyone else--Dad for dying, George for going to the
hospital, the judging--but I knew he had to hit his program,"
says Laura, who began coaching her brother after Inglesi fell
ill. "We've gone through hell, but we're not the only people
who've had tragedy. Everything happens for a reason. By passing
away, those loved ones may have given us something they wouldn't
have been able to give us while they were alive: the toughness,
the bravery to stay in this sport."
Galindo took almost eight months off after the 1995 nationals.
He helped Laura with her coaching and carefully managed what
little money he had. With the '96 championships coming to his
hometown, he knew he would give it one more try, if only to
skate in front of his mother, who no longer traveled. When he
resumed training at the end of September, his whole attitude had
changed. "I got it into my head that no matter what, my friends
would still like me, and my sister would still love me," he
says. "So just skate and enjoy it."
He went to the gym every day, lifting weights and dropping the
weight on his 5'6" frame to 135 pounds--25 pounds less than when
he skated pairs. He improved his stamina by skating his programs
all the way through, not stopping for errors. And with his
sister's guidance, he toned down his outlandish costumes,
choosing all black for his long program. "He wanted it
spray-painted with a swan," she says, "but I waited until two
weeks before the competition to have it done, and there wasn't
time. Rudy was so disappointed. He said, 'Laura, there's nothing
on it. Not a rhinestone. Not a sequin.' But he got so many
compliments, he's decided it's a good look."
When the time came for what he believed would be his last
amateur competition, he took to the ice with a curious sense of
peace. Last chance. Show them. Then he skated both his short and
long programs flawlessly, rivetingly. The judges, whatever their
predispositions, were powerless to place him anywhere but first.
So Rudy Galindo won his championship. Since then he has signed
on for a 76-city exhibition tour that, at a minimum of $2,000 a
pop, will give him a measure of financial security. But this
isn't a fairy tale. He sprained his ankle in early February, and
although it feels strong now, it remains a seed of doubt that no
26-year-old needs when competing in his first world championship
On the home front he has decided to get his own apartment. "I
told Mom, 'I'm 26, it's time I moved out,'" he says. "She was so
upset, she didn't talk to me for two days. That'll be a tough
What hasn't been a tough one? But somehow, supported by one
terrific sister, he has made it to the top. Or if not the
top--for he still dreams of competing in the Olympics--a far piece
from the bottom. Give him time. He's got to get used to the
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS Galindo's title gave him more to share with his mom than their trailer home. [Margaret Galindo and Rudy Galindo]
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN A vision of elegance at the nationals, Galindo now hopes to rehab a sore ankle in time for the worlds. [Rudy Galindo skating]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS [See caption above--Rudy Galindo training]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS Rudy, who has long worn his heart on his sleeve, never has to use words to tell Laura he loves her. [Laura Galindo and Rudy Galindo]