Rudy Garcia Tolson of the US celebrates after winning the men’s 200m individual medley sm7 final during the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing on September 7, 2008. (LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images)
By Phil Minshull, Special to Universal Sports
Rudy Garcia-Tolson has already acquired swimming gold medals at the last two Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing, winning the double-amputee 200m individual medley in 2004 and retaining his title for years ago.
He will be going after his third successive crown in that event in London this summer.
Add to that a plethora of victories over the years at the U.S. Paralympics Open Swimming Championships and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming World Championships and you quickly realize that the California native is something special in the water.
And it’s a sobering thought then to realize that Garcia-Tolson is still only 23.
To achieve so much at such a young age suggests that Garcia-Tolson is an extremely driven individual.
It’s not a suggestion he disputes.
“Only the craziest of the crazies decide to be swimmers. You wake up 5 a.m. and put in 3 to 4 miles in the pool even before the sun comes up; then you put in the time in the weight room and do it all over again the next day. The mental toughness and preparation it takes to become a world-class swimmer is something that only a handful of people have in this world,” commented Garcia-Tolson in a recent interview.
Another example of his determination allied to his talent was shown when became the first double above-knee amputee to finish an Ironman Triathlon when he completed the Ford Ironman Arizona in 2009.
Garcia-Tolson suffered severe multiple birth defects and at the age of five, and after 15 often painful operations, he and his parents made the difficult decision to have both legs amputated above the knee.
Nevertheless, barely two years later, friends and family remember him telling anyone who would listen that he planned to become a world-class swimmer with a gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games as his target.
In Athens, just a few days after his 16th birthday he reached his goal, setting a 200m individual medley world record of 2:42.20 in his heat before easing up in the final but still winning by more than 3 seconds.
Four years later in Beijing, he literally left his rivals trailing in his wake, swimming a world record 2:37.80 in his heat before going even faster with 2:35.92 in the final to win by more than 10 seconds.
His mark in the Chinese capital has remained as the record since then but Garcia-Tolson believes that he still has scope to improve.
He may need to.
Australia’s Matthew Levy has been his closest rival since the start of 2011 and swam 2:39.11 last month to head the 2012 world rankings.
Croatia’s Mihovil Spanja pushed him Garcia-Tolson all the way to the line at the 2010 IPC Swimming World Championships in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and is also coming back into form.
in order to meet their challenge, Garcia-Tolson has been putting in the laps at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he now lives.
“From a young age, ever since I got my legs amputated to going to elementary school, to middle school, to high school, I’ve always had kids and other people telling me that I couldn’t do things. For me, that’s what motivates me, fuels me. I want to go out an prove them wrong,” added Garcia-Tolson.
However, no one is saying that he can’t win a third straight Paralympic Games swimming gold medal.