Spend a few minutes watching videos of Eduardo Garcia, a.k.a. “The Bionic Chef,” on YouTube and his passion for life will become evident. The professional chef and founder of Montana Mex – a company that creates and sells freshly made salsa, seasoning salts and sauces – is also an avid outdoorsman and athlete who wants to connect with others. It was only natural that Garcia step into a role as a spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization that encouraged him to pursue new athletic goals and help others along the way.
Once a chef, always a chef
Garcia began his cooking career at 15 years old and attended culinary school from 1999 to 2000. From there, he embarked on an 11-year career as a chef on yachts. He cooked around the world until 2011, when he returned to Montana and his company Montana Mex, which he founded in 2010.
Not long after the launch of his company, an accident left Garcia in critical condition.
“I was hunting in the backcountry and was electrocuted by an unmarked power line. I hiked out of the woods for 3 miles to get help and ended up staying for 48 days in burn trauma ICU in Salt Lake City,” Garcia said. “I lost my left hand just below the elbow and a few ribs … All in all, I have had 21 surgeries to date.”
Cooking without the use of one’s hand sounds daunting, but Garcia — who fortunately is right-handed — embraced the challenge. He uses a bionic hand and, after an article ran last year with the moniker, has become known as “The Bionic Chef.”
While Garcia is grateful for the ability to continue cooking, he has had to change his approach to many aspects of his job.
“It is something that I have had to really work on, just, how will I become a chef that works with a prosthesis every day rather than two able hands?” Garcia said. “I guess it just taught me to slow down a little bit, to work a little slower and be a bit more conscious and also be more team-oriented, to bring in more help when needed and be okay with that.”
Becoming a CAF athlete
Garcia had heard of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), but it wasn’t until he met CAF athletes at the annual “Celebration of Heroes, Heart and Hope” gala in New York City last summer that he realized he wanted to be involved. Soon he found himself participating in a triathlon – and the rest is history.
“I jumped in and did my first triathlon in September,” he said. “Following that, I jumped in full on, head first, into fundraising, being a spokesperson and an athlete at large for CAF.”
While Garcia had enjoyed mountain biking in the past, his involvement with CAF led him to cycling as a sport.
“One of CAF’s prominent donors and sponsors, Duane Roth, from the San Diego area, passed away in August 2013 and I was asked as a CAF athlete if I would accept his bike and use it as a messenger piece, to continue riding it and just get out there and help the Roth family and community that were close to him heal by seeing the bike back out on the road and doing what it was meant to do, which is move and move others. So that was my introduction into road biking,” he said.
The way Garcia obtained a cycling hand is a bit different from many other CAF athletes. He hadn’t even requested one.
“I was attending a fundraiser in New York City, the BTIG Trading Day (also known as BTIG Charity Day) and was asked what organization I wanted to represent. I listed CAF as my represented charity for the event. When I handed CAF the check that BTIG gave me for raising [funds] that day, CAF pretty much just handed it right back to me and said, ‘Thanks for raising these funds. Go get yourself a hand.’ So I used it, through Advanced Arm Dynamics in Portland [Ore.], to build an activity-specific prosthesis that I use for biking.”
While Garcia’s injuries were traumatic, he remains positive about the effect his amputation has had on his life. He continues to do what he loves, and works with three different prostheses: a body-powered hook for everyday tasks, including cooking; an activity-specific hand used for cycling; and an attachment that works with his hook, which allows him to hold and shoot a hunting bow and to row canoes and other boats requiring paddles or oars.
Garcia said he owes his functionality to his prosthetist, MacJulian Lang, CPO, FAAOP, and the Advance Arm Dynamics clinic.
“They have changed my life,” he said. “Being an amputee is such a foreign thing. How do you prepare to become an amputee? I don’t think you can. And that clinic … those guys have helped make my transition such a comfortable, enjoyable and oftentimes just fun journey.”
Coming up next for Garcia is his third triathlon.
“My first triathlon was the San Diego [Triathlon] Challenge. I plan to do that again this year and just see if I can actually better my time and go into it as a trained athlete rather than a newbie who didn’t know what to expect of himself,” he said.
Garcia has also signed up for the New York City Marathon. He said he has never run a marathon before, but he has already conquered plenty of challenges in his time with CAF.
“I did my first half marathon at the Half Ironman at Oceanside in March,” he said. He also ran the half marathon portion of the Madison Marathon, which is known as the highest altitude marathon in the world, in July.
“The race starts at 8,400 feet and tops out at about 9,500 feet,” he said. “It is just an incredibly high altitude race. That was such an awesome challenge.” — by Amanda Alexander
Disclosure: Garcia has no relevant financial disclosures.