An important part of my job at Aquatics International is to find great speakers for our virtual conference on Nov. 5. This year, I wanted the keynote to be a Paralympic swimmer, and started poking around online to find someone suitable.

Watching videos of challenged athletes was inspiring, but no one I saw felt like the right speaker for us. Then I came across Rudy Garcia-Tolson.

I wish I could put into words what it is about Rudy that makes him so special. He’s a fierce competitor, but so are all successful athletes. He’s strong, brave and has a clarity of vision that’s immediately evident to anyone who listens to him. But again, that’s not unusual for the field.

After giving it some thought, I realized that when I hear Rudy talk about his life, it makes me feel as if I can accomplish great things in my own life. His big dreams, courage and unstoppable work ethic somehow span the gap between speaker and listener so that when he says, “I made it my goal to swim faster than a kid with legs,” I hear, “Erika, you can do anything.”

This ability is usually reserved for politicians and movie stars, and so at first I thought my reaction to Rudy’s charisma might have been personal. Was his voice familiar? Did he remind me of someone from high school? But then I assigned a profile of him (which appears on page 22) to a writer specializing in sports articles. After talking with Rudy, she called me to say it was the best interview she had conducted in her entire career.

“He’s such a cool guy, so inspiring,” she said. “I came out of our conversation feeling like I can do anything.”

So it’s not just me.

The thing is, Rudy’s unique qualities come through best when you hear him speak. To get a pure hit of the Garcia endorphin, register at, sit back and enjoy. You'll need the rest before embarking on that quest to climb K2.