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 men."
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 in singles.
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 one."
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 view.