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Paralympian shares memories of Robin Williams

2012 London Paralympics - Day 4 - Swimming

Clive Rose/Getty Images

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: Rudy Garcia Tolson of the United States celebrates after competing in the Men's 200m Individual Medley - SM7 heat 2 on day 4 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Aquatics Centre on September 2, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Robin Williams will be remembered not only for his stellar sense of humor and his brilliant performances, but also for his big heart — and for being a real team player.

Williams became the face of the San Diego-based Challenged Athletes Foundation, participating in their triathlon in for 11 years and supporting them for even longer.

Much of that comes thanks to Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a two-time Paralympic Gold Medalist Swimmer for Team USA.

The two first met at the Malibu Triathlon, when Garcia-Tolson was only 8 years old.

"Not too many people know, but Mr. Robin was actually a really big cyclist," said Garcia-Tolson, who's now 25. "He used to actually go out to the Tour de France to watch the race, just because he loved the sport."

It was that passion for riding, Garcia-Tolson said, that helped spark his longtime friendship with the entertainer. They came together during the San Diego triathlon challenge as part of "Team Braveheart." Garcia-Tolson, at 9 years old, swam the 1.2-mile part of the journey. Williams handled the 56-mile bike ride, and Scott Findlay, an Ironman vet, took care of the running. 

"It was just a very awesome day every year he came out, we got to share experiences, share stories. ... It was really cool getting to know Mr. Robin on a personal level," Garcia-Tolson said. "To me, people ask me, 'What is he like?' And I tell them, 'He won't think twice to go out of his way to make someone laugh.' He was just always funny. He was an awesome person to be around."

The Challenged Athletes Foundation carried this statement on its website:

"And as we consider Robin part of our family, we are deeply saddened by the recent news of his passing. Over the past 20 years, Robin has been an incredible supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and our mission, participating in our San Diego Triathlon Challenge for 11 years and joining many of our cycling events. He truly found joy in participating side-by-side with our challenged athletes and we cannot thank him enough for the support and energy he brought to our organization. We will ensure his legacy lives on at the #BestDayinTri"

Virginia Tinley, the executive director of CAF, told Fox 5 in San Diego that Williams "really had a genuine respect for the challenged athletes that he met at the triathlon. He was a guy that liked sports and liked getting out there and participating. Robin is genuinely a very giving, warm person. Very humble. [He was] relatively quiet in normal situations, but a brilliant comic, and certainly when he needed to turn on that comic streak, he would be hilarious."

Garcia-Tolson also remembers how Williams carried himself around the challenged athletes in San Diego whenever he would show up to compete.

"He looked at me as an athlete, and I looked at him as an athlete as well," he said. "Every time we would do the relay, we would always expect more out of each other. So we'd always kind of smack talk each other, say, 'Hey, Mr. Robin, you better go five minutes faster this year.' He was a very good friend to everyone out there."


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