‘The pain will go away…you’ll be able to manage’

South Bay Man Swims, Races and Snow Skis…on One Leg

By Brian Covert
Headlight Staff Writer

Not many people can do what Tom Clardy does and pull it of successfully, while still maintaining self-respect and some kind of a positive outlook: He lives from day to day.

Among Tom’s hobbies are swimming, racing and teaching snow-skiing, lecturing to various groups and organizations, and teaching college classes.

He boasts a successful marriage, a good grade-point average in graduate study of criminal justice at Long Beach State College and talks of his future plans.

Considering Tom lost half his right leg seven years ago when he was hit by a car in Utah, he has good reason to brag about who and where he is today.

An ex-police officer and U.S. navy veteran, Tom lives in Fullerton with his wife of four years, Marian, and works closely with Accutext, a word-processing firm in Lomita that handles much of his secretarial and sponsorship work.

Weighing a hefty 200 pounds-plus, he swims about seven miles a day and has built up quite a following of fans and friends during his lecture circuits, teaching swimming for the handicapped at Golden West College in Orange County, and in various swim meets. The most recent swim meet was the Seal Beach 10-mile swim and the Newport Beach two-mile pier-to-pier swim, where Tom completed the swim amidst choppy Pacific waters and leaky goggles.

Tom’s chief goggle-retriever, photographer and longtime friend is Ed Cargile, an established journalist and member of the Southern California Toastmasters International speaking club, which has helped Tom immensely in communicating to groups and clubs, and to people in general.

Tom himself refuses to be labeled “disabled,” despite past efforts by hospital officials in Salt Lake City to keep Tom from reaching what doctors once termed “unrealistic desires,” such as wanting to return to school and to continue skiing.

“Out of all the people who are injured or handicapped, only one-third of one percent ever reach ‘independent’ or ‘normal’ status; in other words, who go out and get a job and pay taxes. Most of them sit and live off the different social security and welfare systems: It’s set up so that the person cannot or does not want to go out and try to become self-sufficient and gainfully employed. So, I’m trying to show now that there’s only one thing holding you down — that’s yourself,” says Tom.

He attributes his faith in God and the support of those close to him for bringing him this far, and many of his future goals are in the works. He plans to swim from Catalina Island to Cabrillo Beach sometime this summer and have it filmed for a multimedia production; he’s planning swims to Coronado and Anacapa islands, a swim across the English Channel in 1982, teaching adaptive physical education to handicapped students, and running and biking are definitely not out of the question in the near future.

“I can do just about anything I want to, as long as I just go out there and try,” he says.

Tom has dedicated himself these days to showing handicapped people and their families, as well as the general public, that anything can be done once you put your mind to it — that if somebody like Tom can clear unsurmountable obstacles and come out smiling, anybody can.

“I’ll never quit anything because I know that once I go through the initial phase, the initial pain, it’ll be over with and I’ll be able to make it to the other point.”

Agreeing that it takes a great deal of inner strength to live the way he does, Tom says, “Yeah, it’s all mental, just realizing it (the pain) is all going to pass away. It’s all going to go and you’ll be able to manage.”