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On a Roll
E.M. Swift
March 11, 1996
The road to the anything but smooth for Rudy Galindo, U.S. figure skating's first openly gay champion
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March 11, 1996

On A Roll

The road to the anything but smooth for Rudy Galindo, U.S. figure skating's first openly gay champion

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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—3½ 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 lie 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 people down."

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