Skating Superhero

Rudy Galindo's amazing recovery from hip replacement surgery proves he's a real 'champion on ice'

By Jason Michael

He's not the first gay man to have implants, but there was no cosmetic benefit to this procedure. Out and proud figure skater Rudy Galindo is making a triumphant return to the ice this month - with two ceramic hips in tow - as part of the John Hancock Champions on Ice tour. But there was a time when Galindo thought he might never skate again.

Almost two years ago, Galindo was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis, a degenerative disease that affected both his hips. The news seemed to spell the end to a celebrated skating career. But his coach and sister, Laura, wouldn't give up. She researched the disease and urged her brother to undergo a groundbreaking new surgical procedure. On Aug. 19 of last year, Galindo received his first new hip, a revolutionary 'ceramic-on-ceramic' joint recently approved by the FDA. His second hip was replaced a month later.

The ordeal was difficult for the charismatic and flamboyant figure skater, but only the latest in a long list of hardships he's had to overcome. Galindo, the 1996 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, was among the first professional figure skaters to come out, first as gay and then in 2000 as HIV-positive.

"It was hard because I had to deal with being HIV-positive and dealing with that and to have another thing on top of another, it's like, 'OK, what's next?'" said Galindo during a press jaunt in Detroit last month. "I just thought it was going to be career ending and the doctors just said, 'You need this done.' And they thought my career was going to be over."

The doctors had no idea the determination and resolve Galindo possessed, though.

"When I found out I was HIV-positive, I wanted to show to the world that just because you have this it's not life-ending," Galindo recalled. "You can skate and do whatever you want. Just don't sit on the couch and let your life pass you by. And with this one, I think, I was just so in shock, like another thing that happens to me, that I really didn't think about what I had to tell people. I was just, like, 'I'm going to do it.' That little Nike thing, 'Just do it!' That is so true. I always look at that. That's my motto this year. 'Just do it!'"

And doing it, he is. Galindo's recovery has being heralded as remarkable, perhaps helped in part by his equally remarkable sense of humor.

Prior to surgery, Galindo made a hysterical inquiry of his surgeon.

"I said, 'Am I gonna lose my moneymaker?'" he recalled. "And the doctor laughed and said, 'No, it will be there."

It was there in bulk - or at least it felt like it - when he first tried to return to the ice.

"The first two weeks it felt like someone had implanted a bowling ball, that's how heavy it was," said Galindo. "It was like, there's no way I'm going to jump with this thing. And they said, 'Oh no, it's actually lighter than your bones would be.'

Eventually, Galindo grew used to the sensation. His first public return to the ice took place during a February stint on the Today Show filmed live from Rockefeller Plaza. Now, with the Champions of Ice tour, which began earlier this month, Galindo is ready to show the world he's back and better than ever. For the tour, Galindo has planned an ambitious program designed to thrill and show the crowds he's still got it.

"I have everything back except the triple axle," he said. "I really don't need it as a pro. That's my next goal in the fall, when I start doing pro competitions again, to throw in a triple axle. So I'm going to work on that. I just wanted to show my jumping ability and my flexibility, 'cause I'm known as the male skater who has the most flexibility and it's back."

Picking the music to skate to for his glorious return was not an easy task. Initially, Galindo chose Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" as a tribute to his fans. But after hearing Beyonce Knowles sing the national anthem at this year's Super Bowl, he picked that instead. But that's not to say he values his fans any less.

"A lot of people from my web page wrote in to say, 'God, I can't believe another thing has happened to you and you're still overcoming things and good for you,'" said Galindo. "So I think they give me inspiration that way and the spirit to fight."

Then again, that's something Galindo has always had; and if his recovery has been remarkable, he doesn't see it that way.

"People say that and I don't see it because, you know, I just think of it as something I have to do," he said. "It's like I have to get in here and do it."

And no one does it quite like Rudy Galindo!

Rudy Galindo and the Champions on Ice tour will come to the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Saturday, April 17. For more information, call 248-645-6666.

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