Thursday, April 3, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Eddie Garcia takes batting practice
Eddie Garcia finished last in the 6.5-mile half-half marathon during the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon series. Yet, he left the Strip with a feeling of accomplishment.
It was months after a flesh-eating bacteria caused his hands and feet to be amputated in January 2013. A lifelong athlete and popular youth sports coach, the 39-year-old never backed down from a challenge.
He had started training for the marathon before he got sick and wanted to complete the race to show the limitations from the amputation wouldn’t define him.
“I was sweating. It was what I needed,” he said. “I just wanted to be out there (participating). It was awesome being on the Strip. I was running next to people dressed as Elvis.”
On Wednesday, he got a little help in his quest to remain active.
They are considered sports prosthetics, designed specifically for athletes, and weigh about 2 pounds. His current prosthetics weigh about 7 pounds.
The new version has an aluminum pylon extension connecting the knee socket to the toe lever, which has traction comparable to a track shoe.
They are valued at $40,000 and last about five years. Garcia is one of 1,469 people worldwide to receive a grant from the foundation, including five in the Las Vegas area. He’s one of 776 first-time grant recipients.
Garcia coaches T-ball for Henderson’s Parks and Recreation Department. He previously coached softball, basketball and soccer. Most seasons, he heads multiple teams, going from one field to the next on Saturdays.
Last fall, he was named the Youth Coach of the Year by the National Alliance of Youth Sports and traveled to San Diego for the ceremony. There he met Magic Johnson, one of his favorite athletes as a child growing up in Los Angeles. He wants to be the first person with no hands to throw out the first pitch for his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m the type of guy who always has multiple things going on,” Garcia said. “I never make excuses. I just get it done. This gives me more freedom. It would be hard for me to continue my lifestyle (without the grant).”
With the upgraded prosthetics, Garcia hopes to get back into shape with swimming and running, eager to shed about 40 pounds he’s gained since the amputation.
“I’m three chins deep,” Garcia says about his weight gain.
He was given a 20 percent chance to live and spent 10 days in a coma with necrotizing fasciitis, enduring a series of surgeries to save his life. Yet, within one month of his amputations, he was walking with prosthetics. Four months later, he was coaching soccer.
Throughout the ordeal, Garcia remained determined to be the best father, husband and coach. His wife, Antoinette, is his primary caregiver, working as a high school counselor during the day.
“It’s like she has two jobs,” he said
When he took his daughter Haley, 12, to the batting cages last month to practice her softball swing, he decided to show her how to do it. Antoinette taped the aluminum bat to his arm.
Garcia played in competitive slow-pitch softball leagues before his illness, and he missed the thrill of making contact with the ball. That day, he did just that.
“Of course I hit the ball,” he said, “It hurt. It stung. But it felt good.”
Garcia worked as an administrator in the Clark County School District for nearly a decade. He’ll retire this summer but will still be active with children through coaching and as a motivational speaker.
This month alone, he’s scheduled to share his story at four schools, including traveling to his native Southern California. He speaks about bullying, easily relating to people with differences because of his amputations.
“I don’t have 12-hour days in my legs anymore,” he said. “I look at it as a blessing. When I was working, I was able to impact lives (of students). Now, I can go around speaking, telling my story and affecting more lives.”