One-legged triathlete- Part One
SPORTS EYE - Raffy Uytiepo (The Freeman) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Rodolfo “Rudy” Fernandez was a former national record-holder in the mile (1,600 meters) before he lost his right leg (from above the knee) in a grenade explosion in an Iloilo City movie house in 1979.  The explosion shattered his dream of competing in the Hong Kong International Athletics Championship that year. The bigger damage, however, was on his leg.  Rudy was the country’s top bet after winning a silver medal in the 800 meters and a bronze in the 1,500 meters in 1972 Pesta Sukan Games (now known as the Sea Games). It took Rudy sometime to get over the trauma and in the depth of depression, even attempted to take his life.  “I had a gun in my mouth”, he said.  In 1986, the Philippine Band of Mercy gave Rudy a fiber-glass artificial leg and after getting an inspiration from Canadian cancer victim Terry Fox (also an amputee), who embarked on a Trans-Canada run, decided to run 104 kilometers from Sara Town to IloIlo City.  He covered the run in six days.  In 1987, I met Rudy who asked me to be his personal coach and manager. That year, we embarked on another fund-raising run, covering the same route in three days. It was the start of several international stints including the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon and the Singapore Marathon.  Before that, in 1996, Rudy swam the Guimaras Strait to Bacolod City which landed him in the Readers Digest’s “ Hero For Today”. In January of 2000, while training for the Sydney Paralympics, Rudy was hit by a van in Leganes town.  Rudy’s right wrist was fractured while he sustained bruises on his face.  At the hospital, I promised Rudy that I’m organizing a “Run for Rudy,” a fund-raising event where I will trace our actual route in the Iloilo charity run in 1987.  But De los Reyes (then Milo Marathon race organizer) said we could generate more funds if the run is held in Metro Manila.  So the stage was set as we marked March 19 as race day.  Three weeks before  the Manila event, then Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SMBA) chairman Felecito “Tong” Payumo called who said his birthday falls on March 7 and he has decided  to hold a fund-raising run for Rudy instead of the usual fanfare.  In no time, TRAP president Tom Carrasco and I were off to Subic to organize the race.  Subic locators and employees pitched in to generate Php 51,000.  We needed over P200,000 for Rudy’s operation and we were looking forward to the Manila race.  I told Rudy we could get a bigger amount if the runners could see him personally but doctors at the Iloilo hospital said Rudy cannot travel yet, although Rudy said he was feeling better.   

Great Escape

Rudy and I agreed  for a quick trip to Manila that Saturday evening we sneaked out of the hospital and took the 7pm flight to Manila.  Meanwhile, everything for the race the next morning was all in place with Ron Delos Reyes coordinating with the route marshalls and other agencies. We were booked in a hotel near the starting line at the Cultural Center of the  Philippines. The 5K race started at 7pm which was participated in by over 1,500 runners including the country’s best athletes. The list included Olympians Onyok and Roel Velasco, champion bowler Paeng Nepomuceno, Lydia De Vega, Elma Muros, Alvin Patrimonio, triathletes, cyclists, weightlifters, chess players and a lot more. PSC chair Butch Tuazon and POC president Christy Ramos Jalasco  were also at the starting line.  Some 40 PWDs on wheelchairs headed by Philspada Mike Barredo and the National Dragon Boat team also joined the race.  After the awarding ceremonies at 10am, Rudy and I hurried to the airport to catch our Iloilo 12 noon flight.  At 2pm, we were back at the hospital.

Arrest me

When we got to Rudy’s room we were greeted by the hospital administrator and some policemen who were waiting for us.  I told the admin officer that I’m ready to go to jail but at least my mission was accomplished.  We raised over Php200,000 for Rudy’s operation.  I told the policemen “arrest me for kidnapping” but the police officers said “We waited for you because we want to congratulate you for a job well done”.  Christy Jalasco Ramos, President Fidel Ramos’ daughter, must have called them.

NEXT COLUMN: Part two of Rudy’s amazing exploits.  The 250 kilometer “Hero for Heroes”, a fund raising cycling  from Iloilo City to Jamindan Capiz and Rudy joins 2005 Pinoy Big Brother Celebrity edition with housemates Rustom Padilla ( now known as Bebe Gandanghari), Zanjo Marudo, John Prats, Keana Reeves and Bianca Gonzales.

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