Along with the rest of the world, athletes have had their careers upended by the coronavirus pandemic. They are giving The New York Times an intimate look at their journeys in periodic installments through the rest of the year.
It was the weekend after the Fourth of July and Rudy Garcia-Tolson was still searching for a place to swim in Southern California. With all the public pools near his home closed, his attempt to come out of a three-year retirement at age 31 and make a fifth United States Paralympic team was stuck in first gear.
He'd started swimming and surfing in the ocean, plenty fun and a tough workout but hardly the best way to prepare to face elite competition in the 200-metre individual medley and the 100-metre breast stroke.
Then Garcia-Tolson's phone lit up notifying him of an Instagram message. David Duchovny, best known for playing Special Agent Fox Mulder on TV's The X-Files, was reaching out. Duchovny, a fellow swimmer and triathlete, had read the article in The New York Times detailing Garcia-Tolson's efforts to find a place to train. The actor had an idea.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
I was still trying to find a pool when I got one of the great messages of my life . It was from a woman who said she worked with the actor David Duchovny, telling me to get in touch with her about finding a pool to train in. She gave me his number and told me to reach out. When I did, he told me he had a 25-meter, one-lane pool in his backyard. I was welcome to use it whenever I wanted. I just needed to give him a little notice.
The funny thing is I actually met David at the Malibu Triathlon when I was a kid. I was there with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. He didn't remember that when I told him, but then I showed him a picture of us, and then he totally did. How crazy is it that I met this guy like 20 years ago and now I am training in his pool?
So far I've gone about 12 times.
I text him, tell him when I am going to be there. I park in his driveway, next to the garage. I go right to the pool.
The first few times we talked some. Now it's less and less. I uncover the pool, get my equipment out, and within five minutes I jump in. I do my 90-minute, or maybe a two-hour workout and I am done. It's pretty nice.
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The first few days I was in awe that I was in Malibu, at an outdoor private pool. After I got over that, I was able to get into my zone.
It's my fourth week now. I feel tired and sore, but it's the good type of tired and sore that I really missed and enjoy. I'm hitting my intervals and going fast, and feeling good again.
After being off for basically 3 1/2 years, it's not easy . All my workouts are between 4,500 and 6,000 metres, but the surprising thing to me is I am all alone and mentally I am able to stay in it.
Usually when you are training, you can pace off your teammates, you got a coach yelling at you, the clocks are right there in front of you. Being alone it's very easy to zone out and forget about the effort, and I'm not doing that.
How do I know that?
There is a little digital clock next to the side of the pool. Everything I do is based on the clock. I can see I am getting better at hitting my intervals. I will try to do 10 sets of 100 meters, starting another one every 90 seconds. I can already hit 1:15 or 1:20 for the first three or four. Then I start to fall off.
I also do longer sets. I've done 10 intervals of 400 meters, starting each one every 6 1/2 minutes.
I've got a routine. On the odd number I come in at 5:40 or 5:50. On the even numbers I attach a pull buoy, which lifts my hips, or my hand-paddles, which force me to pull more water, or my snorkel, so I don't have to break to breathe. I also use my fin sometimes, so I can kick using my abs, and use the parachute, which slows me down and makes me focus on my arms.
For these first few months, the focus is to stay consistent and put in yardage. I am going about 20,000 metres a week, which is about half of what I would be doing if I hadn't taken most of the last three years off.
But I have to understand and accept the process of rebuilding. I have to be hitting the Paralympic standards by January and be ready for the trials in less than a year. I can't afford to get injured. I don't have the time.
My original plan was to be in Colorado training by now.
But since I've got access to this pool and we have no idea what is going to happen with the virus rates, I am going to push that back a month.
I'm living in my childhood bedroom in Bloomington, California, but I have no urge to leave right now. I get a stipend from being an ambassador with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. If I can make the national team again I will be eligible for a little money, which helps.
I might be able to pick up some speaking engagements, but I am late for this Olympic cycle and most of the sponsors are committed elsewhere.
It's going to be a tough year financially . I know that. I'm not very good with money and finances. I haven't saved my whole life and once I go to Colorado, I'll have to be paying for my own place, even if eventually I am swimming at the Olympic Training Center.
For now, I am going to keep doing what I am doing. I've got so much more experience. It's going to come. It's a process. In two weeks I will bump the training up to five or six times a week.
I've got so much more perspective now. I'm really doing this for myself. I haven't had any contact with a coach. That's fine. There is nothing to talk about right now.
Written by: Matthew Futterman
Photographs by: Christian Monterrosa
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