Arizona athletes

Old Pueblo Abuelo: I can’t imagine my life without Rudy Gallego in it

(Family Photo)

This is the 37th installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson, the Old Pueblo.

Rudolpho Terrazas Gallego
August 1, 1949 – November 26, 2023

I was just 18, fresh out of high school, trying to get my footing in college after deciding not to pursue any kind of pre-law education at Georgetown or an art education at George Washington. I came back to The Old Pueblo from Maryland to study education at the University of Arizona and one of my classes was a study of Adaptive Physical Education and that’s where I met my mentor, Dave Herr-Cardillo. He gave a presentation on adaptive athletics during one of our classes and I chose to do some of my required hours in his program. It changed my life.

That one chance meeting turned into over 36 years of teaching, with the greater bulk of those years spent teaching Adaptive Physical Education to children and it also led to over 30 years of coaching youth and high school softball, but my first 13 years or so were spent coaching adults with Dave at Arizona. What is now known as the national-power Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team at Arizona, the “Wildchairs” was how it all began for me.

That’s how I met legendary athlete and referee Cleo Robinson. Cleo is the grandfather of Bijan Robinson and I’ve known that man for 42 years. Knowing him, and Dave, has been some of the greater blessings of my life. I also got to meet great athletes who just happened to play the game I love and excelled at from a wheelchair.

I was 18 and coaching men more than twice my age and most of them were veterans at the time. They were all insane characters and that atmosphere might have been difficult for some but my crazy high school friends, Jon, Charlie and Eric, prepared me for what was to come. I was already used to the bizarre.

There are many stories, and some cannot be repeated, but many of those revolve around Rudy Gallego. Born in 1949, it was my understanding that Rudy jumped on a grenade in Vietnam. That’s what I was told and I’m sticking with that because it helps to explain all the craziness I experienced with him. (I believe he actually stepped on a land mine).

His wheelchair replaced his legs and he was missing some digits but he was one of the best 3-point shooters I had ever seen and he moved as quickly as his wit. His playing ability is for another time and for another story because I remember him more for his impish smile and his sense of humor. Well, maybe his insane humor.


I’m not sure if Rudy played sports at Pueblo but he would often just blurt out, “Touchdown Pueblo” and I just got used to it. I had to – he was smiling.

We took lots of road trips and we found ourselves in a second-rate motel somewhere in San Diego I think. If you have ever traveled for sports you know there is plenty of downtime but when you travel with adults who have seen it all, downtime means beer, gambling and beer. I can’t honestly recall if Rudy ever took part in the beer but I was three years too young which meant nothing to those guys (or to me).

I’ve thought long and hard about which story about Rudy to tell and I decided on this one:

While sitting on the twin beds in one of the motel rooms, Rudy reached over and picked up the Yellow Pages (Google it) and he flipped to the “Gallegos.” It was San Diego so there might have been several pages of Gallegos but he started to call them all in order from the room phone and he asked whoever answered if they knew who he was.

My first thought was that this was something my best friend Jon would have done but, somewhere down the middle of the first page, it sounded like he got a hit, or so we think he did. He talked to the person on the other end for about 45 minutes and then things got quiet. Rudy had fallen asleep while talking to a random Gallego, in a random motel room on a random road trip.

I saw Rudy from time to time over the years, with his son coaching at Cholla and his grandson playing Little League, but I felt like I was hit with a punch to the gut the other day after I scrolled through Facebook to see that he passed away on Sunday.

There are many athletes, coaches and community members in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame and I hope someday there will be a spot for the Marine who helped start adaptive athletics at Arizona in 1974 and for Dave, who put the program on the map, and gave me the means to teach a few thousand kids along the way.

Rudy was 74 and I am turning 60 soon. That boy from 40 years ago made some important life choices and meeting people like Rudy lets me know I chose correctly. I can’t imagine my life without my students in it and without him in it.


Thursday, December 7

Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church
1300 N Greasewood Rd, 85745
Rosary: 10:30 a.m.
Mass: 11 a.m.
Burial at South Lawn Memorial Cemetery following Mass.
5401 S Park Ave, 85706

Celebration of Life Luncheon following burial will be at
El Casino Ballroom
437 E 26th St. 85713


Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling and his unique perspective can only be found here and on Andy is a Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at

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