How Robin Williams Supported Athletes with Disabilities

Funny for Good

Among the many good things this beloved comedian did for others was actively support athletes with disabilities, and he was far more into it than just writing a check.

The death of Robin Williams earlier this month was extremely difficult to accept. Everyone from fans to friends and fellow celebrities responded to the shock of the comedian’s passing with an unprecedented level of grief and support.

As more information came out about the difficulties Williams suffered with crippling depression and early-stage Parkinson’s, we also found out that Robin Williams was more than a comedic genius quietly enduring a disability—he was a hero.

Robin not only advocated for the homeless, he was also a supporter of our troops at home and overseas. He was also a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and children suffering from cancer. As a longtime friend of Christopher Reeve, the comedian was a faithful friend to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. And he was a driven athlete who spent a great deal of time encouraging kids with disabilities to participate in sports and other physical activities.

For the past sixteen years, Robin has been involved with a nonprofit called the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). The organization is dedicated to providing opportunities for people with disabilities, encouraging them to participate in sports and athletics. Earlier this year, Robin attended a CAF San Diego Triathlon Challenge. This event brings 800 athletes together, 300 of whom have physical disabilities, to compete as teams. But it was at Robin’s first endurance event with the organization that he partnered with young Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a kid with disabilities and a heart big as all outdoors.

Following this event, the enthusiastic celebrity took part in ten more triathlons. All of this grew out of a close friendship with Rudy, at the time a ten-year-old double amputee. In their first event together sixteen years ago, Rudy completed the swimming segment while Robin took care of the bicycle requirement.

Jenna Novotny, CAF senior marketing manager said, “Robin instantly fell in love with Rudy’s spit-fire spirit. They always had so much fun together.”

The now-25-year-old Rudy has had his share of struggles. He was born with popliteal pterygium syndrome, a club foot, webbed fingers and a cleft palate and lip. His condition made him unable to straighten his leg.

After 15 operations before he was five, Rudy decided to undergo a double amputation and use prosthetic legs rather than continue to undergo more surgeries. After that he won two Paralympic gold medals and became the first-ever double above-the-knee amputee to complete the Ironman triathlon in 2009.

It was the support of people like Robin Williams that allowed Rudy to accomplish these amazing achievements. “There was nothing [Rudy] wouldn’t or couldn’t do,” Novotny said. “That was all because people like Robin believed in him and not only told him he could do anything, but got right out there with him to bike or run or swim.”

In 2002, when Rudy won the Casey Martin Award, Robin grabbed a late-night flight following an event in New York just to surprise his friend in Oregon at the Nike headquarters. In tribute to Robin Williams, Rudy wrote the following on his website:

“You showed not only me, but the whole world, that it’s okay to be different, and that the power of humor can change lives. I can never thank you enough for going out of your way to make me smile. Thank you for making me the luckiest kid alive. Thank you for being a heck of a friend.”

He made us marvel at his imagination, and we laughed for decades. Along with establishing a fund in his name, the Challenged Athletes Foundation honored the memory of their friend with this moving video. Do you have a favorite Robin Williams moment? Please share it!


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