Throughout the 1980’s Rowdy Gaines was the fastest swimmer on the planet. The Winter Haven, Florida native didn’t start swimming until he was 17, but improved rapidly within two years to earn a swimming scholarship to Auburn University, where he quickly gained international fame.
At the 1980 United States Swimming National Championships, Gaines broke world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle, making him the favorite to sweep all the sprinting events in the pool at the upcoming Olympics in Moscow that summer, but he never got that opportunity. The Olympic Boycott of 1980 came during the peak of Gaines’ career, as Swimming World Magazine voted him World Swimmer of the Year. He was expected to win five Olympic gold medals in Moscow.
After a brief retirement, the allure of competing proved too strong, and Gaines returned to the pool, where the consummate technician resumed his attack on the record books. At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, no swimmer won more races than he did with his three gold medals in the 100M freestyle, the 4x100M freestyle and medley relays. During his career he broke a total of 14 World Records. His world records confirmed his place in swimming history.
In 1991, the swimming world was shocked to hear that Gaines had contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune virus that attacks the nervous system. Completely paralyzed for more than two weeks, he fought back, overcame the disease and one year later went to the World Masters Championships and won the glamorous 50 and 100-meter freestyle events.
Gaines has been inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame and International Swimming Hall of Fame and works with many charitable organizations including the USA Swimming Foundation, Swim Across America benefitting research for cancer and Special Olympics.
Often referred to as “Swimming’s Greatest Ambassador”, Gaines, is now Vice President of Development and Partnerships for the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance, and spreading the message of saving lives for children by taking swim lessons through the organization’s philanthropic mission Step Into Swim.
Known as the voice of swimming, Gaines has worked with CBS, TNT and ESPN as an announcer for swimming and other events and is a mainstay and trusted voice on the NBC Olympic broadcast team.
Gaines and his wife, Judy, have four daughters and five granddaughters.
Previous Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients