By Shannon Scovel
George Garcia Jr. could have quit. He could have resolved to living the rest of his life in a wheelchair and faced the realities of his accident without trying to change his fate. But something inspired Garcia to take charge and make a change. He wanted to be active, to raise his son with optimism and energy. He wanted a new leg.
In 2009, after a motorcycle accident on a California road that forced the amputation of his right leg, Garcia struggled to get back on his feet. He left the hospital after the accident with no insurance, no money and a $200 wheelchair that he bought on Craigslist. A motorsports fan and a childhood baseball player, Garcia resolved that he would have to do something if he wanted to be active again.
And that ‘something’ turned out to be an application for a new prosthetic.
Garcia saw a grant through the Challenged Athletes Foundation that would help him afford a running leg, and he wanted to apply, but one problem stood in his way. The application required a picture of the candidate in “athletic form.”
“As silly as it sounds, that’s really what started it, a picture in athletic form. I wasn’t super athletic, even though growing up as a kid I did a lot of baseball, a lot of football, a lot of cycling, a mixture of things,” Garcia said. “I saw this grant, and when I saw that it had a have a picture in athletic form, I saw the triathlon. I wanted to stay active, I wanted find a way to get this running leg, and I wanted to find a way to train for that. Everybody was looking at me like ‘are you crazy? You’re doing a triathlon? And I was like, ‘yeah, I’m going to do it.’ I don’t know what the heck I signed myself up for, but I’m going to do it.”
Racing with a prosthetic leg not built for triathlons, Garcia crossed the finish line at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September of 2010, in just over four hours, and became a triathlete.
Reflecting on his first race, Garcia explained some of the unexpected challenges he faced as an amputee.
On the day of the race, he showed up alone to the venue and “crutched” down to the beach. He waited ten or fifteen minutes before the start of his swim group, straining to maintain his balance in the sand. Arms already aching, Garcia gratefully plunged in when the gun went off. Garcia said he felt comfortable and natural in the water, but the hardest part of the race came on the run.
“I get emotional every time when I get to the 5K, and I think it’s probably because I can’t run. I want to run, but I can’t,” Garcia said. “I have so much left to me. Once I get that adrenaline going, I don’t feel anything, I’m just going.”
At the end of the race, after finishing the first triathlon of his life with just one leg, Garcia connected with Andrew Bailey, a sponsor of the Challenged Athlete Foundation, and a supporter of amputees like Garcia. Bailey gave Garcia a business card for a man named Rick Myers in Irvine, California who works with athletes to help them perform well despite physical limitations.
Six years after that first race, Garcia is back again, preparing to race for the fifth time. Now he has a two-and-half-year-old son who motivates him to stay fit and race with a new passion. When asked what lessons he hopes to pass on to his son, Garcia paused.
“I really want to make sure I say the right thing here,” he said before ultimately explaining how he hopes his son learns compassion and perseverance.
“Just to have that open heart throughout school where you don’t look at the weaker as weaker,” Garcia said. “Maybe if you’d helped them, you can make them faster. Try to be a leader, and don’t quit. It’s not just about winning. It’s about everybody having fun and not quitting.”
Garcia said the amputee community has helped him make connections with other people across the country and gain followers on Instagram. From skateboarding to playing softball to working full time as a career advisor at a private college in California, Garcia has created new opportunities for himself, despite the additional challenges of being an amputee. He said he enjoys life more than he ever did, and has found a community of supporters from other amputees to new followers on Instagram. After finishing his first race in 2010, Garcia has moved on to several races a year, but he said he loves returning the Nautica Malibu race because proceeds from the event go to charity, and he enjoys racing for a good cause. At 33 years old, Garcia said he has much of his triathlon career ahead of him, and he hopes to one day complete the Ironman.
“I just have a big heart, that’s what it is. I just don’t have any quit in me,” Garcia said. “It’s not about not moving fast, it’s just about finishing. That’s me, that’s my goal.”