In 1996, San Jose was the site of one of the biggest upsets in American figure skating history when Rudy Galindo became the oldest male national champion of the modern era at age 26. Galindo was also the first openly gay figure skating champion, having come out before the competition began.
Galindo was raised in a trailer home in East San Jose with his sister Laura. He began figure skating at an early age and his career took off when he began skating pairs with Fremont native Kristi Yamaguchi. As a team Galindo and Yamaguchi won three U.S. national championships. However, after 1990 Yamaguchi retired from pairs competition to focus on individual skating.
The AIDS epidemic had a major impact on Galindo’s personal and professional lives. His and Yamaguchi’s first coach, Jim Hulick, died of AIDS in 1989. In 1994, Galindo lost both his brother George and another coach Rick Inglesi to AIDS.
Despite those hardships, Galindo won the men’s singles champion title in front of a hometown crowd as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held at the San Jose Arena on January 20th, 1996. In the competition, he was the only male competitor to land combination triple jumps. After his performance Rudy chanted the names Jess, George, Jim, and Rick, who had all helped him to achieve the victory.
His championship defied the norms of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Galindo later said he feared being an out skater might lower his score because of some judge’s discomfort with his identity.
In 1997, he released his autobiography Icebreaker. Proceeds from the book were donated toward funding the expansion of the San Jose Public Library’s Biblioteca Latinoamericana.
In 2000, Galindo announced he was HIV positive.
Today, he coaches figure skating at Sharks Ice in San Jose. His students include Kristi Yamaguchi’s daughter.
He was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 and the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2013. He has set the path for numerous LGBT and HIV-positive athletes to be themselves.