By Naomi Cahill
Competing in sports gave East San Gabriel Valley athlete Edward Garcia the confidence in himself and a positive outlook on life. The 32-year-old, diagnosed with hydrocephalus, also walks with the aid of crutches, and has undergone 28 surgeries since the age of 11 months.
Despite his physical limitations and the tough competitors he is up against, any day spent competing on the track is already a win.
“To me, when I’ve had surgery, that’s at my low point, and it doesn’t get any lower,” Edward said. “I want to win every time I come out here. But at the same rate, I see athletes that are much stronger than I am, and they win by a landslide, but I still gut it out all the way through because I am not in a hospital.”
Edward embodies the spirit of competition. However, for a long time, he was in search of a place to compete.
The long-distance walker was originally a runner. For four years he was allowed to compete in the Braille Institute of Los Angeles youth organization’s annual track and field competition, even though he was not visually impaired. However, participating in the race was still challenging. The organization required him to run with crutches, which was tough on his body. The physical limitations overmatched Edward.
When Edward aged out of the youth organization at 19, it was time to find a new sport. He joined a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym near his home and began learning the basics. However, the gym only offered limited instruction and required a lengthy release form because of Edward’s condition. Discouraged, he, again, was left without a physical activity.
In 2005, he found his place in Special Olympics Southern California, where he now competes as a long-distance walker and serves as a Global Messenger. Hydrocephalus causes delayed brain activity and loss of coordination, but Edward sees the delay as an aid for him during races because he will not false start.
“When the gun goes off, I never make a false start,” Edward said. “When the gun goes off, I have to process it really quickly and say, ‘OK, start walking.’”
In Special Olympics, he found an organization that fit his needs as a competitor, but also respected him as an athlete. According to Edward, during practice, there is a sense of trust between him and the coaches, to the point that he times himself while they assist other members of the team.
“They know that I know my stuff,” he said. “They trust me to give them the right times, and I give them the right times, they input them and I’m ready to go.”
The athletes share similar trust and respect with one another. According to Edward, what he loves about competing is the people; the athletes support each other while engaging in friendly competition. They motivate each other, keep each other grounded, and are able to watch each other grow as athletes.
In April, Edward competed in the 100, 400, and 800-meter walk races at the Pomona Area Games. Edward said he is much faster when he competes with crutches, which gives him an unfair advantage over his competitors. As a result, he chooses to compete without the aid of crutches in order to remain fair to the other racers and to himself.
Although it is more comfortable for him to use crutches, the more he practices walking without them, the closer he gets to his lifelong goal.
“My ultimate goal is to walk, one day, without them completely,” he said.
Special Olympics Southern California serves more than 29,700 athletes with intellectual disabilities. If you know someone who could potentially benefit from programs that help develop physical fitness, sports skills, social skills and self-esteem, learn more about how to become an athlete.