Review -- Icebreaker: The Autobiography of Rudy Galindo
by Rudy Galindo with Eric Marcus

by Lorrie Kim
Originally posted to on January 18, 1997

I just read an advance uncorrected galley of Rudy Galindo's book, co-authored by Eric Marcus. It is due out in hardcover from Pocket Books on March 19, 1997, US$23. It looks like the cover will feature a photo of Galindo in his Ave Maria exhibition costume with the red ribbon.

[Disclaimer: this is a biased review. I contributed to the technical appendix at the end of the book.]

The book starts very cleverly, with Galindo saying nobody ever wants to photograph the trailer where he lived with his mom last year: it's much too nice to fit with his story. It's a perfect way to introduce the subject of his troubled life, while preserving his family's pride and making the point that they are as proud and clean as anybody else.

That said, he begins his frank tale, conscientiously portraying all of his own flaws, striving to hurt or blame no one with the power of this book. It is not an éxposé, and he outs no one.

His story is one of a boy whose life was saved over and over again by skating, and by his loving sister who sacrificed much to ensure that he could skate. This may be hard to believe, but his life has been much more traumatic than has been portrayed in the media.

His mother suffers from bipolar disorder, and when Galindo was two she was literally taken away in a straitjacket; the children lived with relatives for years. As a result, Galindo has led a desperately unmothered life, and it is clear from the book that he has not even begun to be able to address that trauma. His whole life has been characterized by emotional shutdown, angry tears, and grueling mood swings (possibly chemical, like his mother's).

His father disowned older brother George for being gay when George was 18 and Rudy 8. Rudy already knew himself to be gay and that his effeminacy shamed his father. There are many harrowing passages about George, including his stint in jail ("a nightmare") and his hellish case of AIDS dementia. One passage describes a day in Rudy's life, caring for his sick brother. It's hard to believe humans can endure such pain.

One of the richest parts of the book is the section dealing with his relationship to the Yamaguchis. He asked to team up with Kristi when she was a tiny, "incredibly cute," talented pre-adolescent; they were charmed with each other. He never officially moved in with her family, but Kristi's mother Carole set aside a room for him, and firmly loved and mothered him. But eventually, he lived in fear of what did happen: that Kristi would grow apart from him and quit her pairs career. This is the point at which he infamously changed his name to Rudi, a desperate and clingy move which he says probably drove her "nuts."

When he talks about Kristi in this book, it is a masterpiece of honesty and maturity. He says right out that he often boiled with rage. But there isn't blame. There is a lot of calling things by their right name. If you ever wondered what happened between them, at least from his point of view, you will not be disappointed by this account.

In the year before '96 Nationals, Rudy took up coaching. I think that truly saved him. His students reminded him how to love skating, and by nurturing them he got nurtured himself. It seems like this was the time he decided he was going to become a true adult, learn the life skills he didn't have, and pay his own way (he won his national and world medals in boots a year past retirement, rather than let Laura buy him new ones).

When the book geared up to his two skates at Nationals, I got sweaty and nervous, as if I didn't know how it would turn out! This section does a good job of amplifying what fans already know about those moments from TV and endless replays of our videos (admit it). For example, on the day of the long program, he bought his mother lunch at the mall, then took her grocery shopping.

The book does cover his DUI charge. The humiliation of getting arrested forced him to acknowledge his alcohol problem, and he has not touched a drop of alcohol since. He also says he will finally listen to his sister and get some professional counseling. Hey, he can afford it! He certainly doesn't seem to be throwing his money away frivolously. One thing you cannot say about Rudy Galindo is "too much, too soon."

I find myself discussing Rudy himself here, instead of reviewing the book as a book. I suppose that's an indicator of the book's success. Rudy's "voice" is restless -- he says he has never been good at sitting still -- and bears many marks of trauma. He often, as he admits, thinks unkindly of himself. He speaks openly of tragedy, but sometimes diverts the pain with glib (and very funny) humor. He has made some stupid decisions, but can be so charming that you want to hug him and bop him and cry all at once. Through it all, he has a wild stubbornness that I think is the most valuable thing about him and has probably saved his life, even when he was 100% wrong. A very interesting person.

He says in the book that maybe reading about his mistakes can help you avoid duplicating them. That's only one good reason to read the book. If you want the inside story, this is the real thing.

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