Rowdy Gaines: ‘Never give up on your dreams.’
Story: Theresa Campbell
Three-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Rowdy Gaines proves one can go through setbacks and persevere.
It was exciting to be in the recent crowd at Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce Sunrise Breakfast and see the video of Rowdy competing and receiving the gold as the national anthem played at the 1984 Summer Games.
“I am living proof that you should never give up on your dreams,” Rowdy says.
The Winter Haven native says he was a scrawny teen and unsuccessful in sports tryouts for football, baseball, basketball, golf, and tennis before he started swimming at 17. Swimming fast laps built his confidence and earned him a swimming scholarship to Auburn University, where he set many records and was favored to excel at the 1980 Olympics. However, that dream was crushed by the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Summer Games.
“I knew my journey was going to turn into an eight-year journey,” he says, since the Summer Olympics are every four years.
“I swam six hours a day, six days a week for eight years,” says Rowdy, adding it amounted to about 24,000 miles, the circumference of the globe at the equator. “So, I figuratively swam around the world. I would swim every single lap all over again because it was the journey that meant so much to me.”
Rowdy happily gave his medals away: the first gold to his mother, the second one to his father, and the third medal to his coach—because of their love and support.
In 1991, the Olympian came down with Guillain–Barré syndrome, which strikes the nervous system, and it left Rowdy temporarily paralyzed and hospitalized for months.
“I had to relearn how to do everything all over again,” he says. “But what taught me so much more was the love of my family, the love of my friends. I learned to never take my health for granted, to never take my family or friends for granted, because those are the things that are really important.”
This Olympian shows he excels out of the pool as a motivational speaker, and those of us who love watching the Olympics on television may have a chance to see Rowdy in Tokyo in 2020, which marks his eighth Olympics as a TV commentator.