Racing to the top of the Empire State Building would be an arduous climb for the best of athletes.
For Rudy Garcia-Tolson, it’s even more impressive.
When Garcia-Tolson starts the 1,576-stair climb up to the top of the iconic building on Feb. 7, he will be doing it as a double amputee, helping to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
“I find it of utmost importance to be a role model for . . . kids so they can see what’s possible. It’s OK to be different,” he said. “We all have the potential to follow our dreams and do what we want.”
Garcia-Tolson, 29, was born with a congenital birth defect causing his legs to be webbed at the knees. After undergoing 15 surgeries, he decided on amputation. He was 5 years old.
“For me, it was a black and white decision: Get some cool robot legs or [be] confined to not being able to be a kid,” he said. “That’s when . . . my life began.”
About two years later, Garcia-Tolson said he got his first set of prosthetic legs and almost immediately started running and swimming. His first challenge was beating an able-bodied swimmer at a race — he did that in six months.
“Right then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I love that feeling of competing and challenging myself.”
He went on to compete in the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Paralympic Games. His plan is to compete in Tokyo in 2020.
This week Garcia-Tolson will don his running legs, made of high-end carbon fiber and costing up to $20,000 a leg, and join the total group of 250 runners for the 41st annual Empire State Building Run-Up.
The race includes people from eight different countries — from places as far as Colombia, Australia, Mexico and Singapore — and 18 different states, ages 18 to 79. The fastest men’s time was 9 minutes and 33 seconds to make it up to the main observation deck on the 86th floor of “the world’s most famous building,” said John Kessler, the president and chief operating officer of the Empire State Realty Trust.
“It’s really a bucket list item for athletes to try to check off in New York. It’s special,” Kessler said. “And it’s clearly challenging and very, very competitive.”
Following the race, Kessler said an awards ceremony and a reception will be held at the STATE Grill and Bar on the street level.
Garcia-Tolson, who moved to Crown Heights about a year ago, said he hopes to raise awareness for the CAF, which provides support for people with physical challenges who want to pursue fitness and competitive athletics.
The CAF is the official charity partner of this year’s run.
So far, Garcia-Tolson said, the organization has raised $65,000 this year, and has more than two dozen runners participating in the race.
“Stairs are the worst enemy, they’re just a challenge to go up,” he said. “Whether you’re born with a challenge, whether you have a challenge midlife, we believe through sport you can get back into the game of life.”