Jan. 7, 2007
Orlando, Fla. -
Former Auburn swimming national champions Dave Denniston and Rowdy Gaines were honored Sunday as the 2007 recipients of the NCAA Inspiration and the NCAA Silver Anniversary Awards, respectively. Denniston and Gaines were present the annual awards at the NCAA Honors Celebration at the Gaylord Palms Osceola Ballroom. The NCAA Honors Celebration will air Feb. 2 at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
The Inspiration Award was created in 2001 to honor individuals who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and now serve as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations.
The Silver Anniversary Award is given annually to six former student-athletes who have made significant professional and civic contributions since they completed their intercollegiate eligibility 25 years ago.
"Dave and Rowdy are extremely deserving of these awards and Auburn is very proud of their accomplishments," Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs said. "Both men were outstanding students, athletes and individuals during their Auburn careers and each have gone on to accomplish great things. They've touched the lives of so many individuals and we're very proud to call them our own."
On Feb. 6, 2005, Denniston damaged his spine in a sledding accident in Wyoming. It took two hours for medics to reach him. As a result of the accident, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Prior to this accident, Denniston was making waves as an elite swimmer. A three-time NCAA Champion, he was a member of the U.S. National Team at the 2003 World Championships.
"I humbly accept this award, even though I don't feel like I've done enough to earn it," Denniston said. "It puts pressure on me to be inspirational to people and I gladly accept that responsibility. What motivates me is to see my friends and teammates become successful in their endeavors. This award is something that I deeply cherish and look forward to living up to."
Since the accident, Denniston has taken more than 200 steps with the assistance of his trainers and is now able to crawl on his own. Denniston has put his communications degree to good use, as he now travels around the country as a motivational speaker.
Auburn's Director of Competitive Aquatics, David Marsh, presented both Denniston and Gaines with their awards.
"I'm truly thrilled for Dave Deniston," Marsh said. "I can't think of anybody that better represents this award. At Auburn, Dave was the inspirational leader of the team and as captain of the squad, his strength was providing the team a special swim or encouragement when it was needed most. This award takes on a whole new meaning as Dave's biggest challenge in life is to walk again. It is very fitting for Dave to receive this award."
An eight-time NCAA Champion and six-time SEC Champion, Gaines garnered 22 All-American honors during his storied career at Auburn. The 1981 SEC Athlete of the Year, he was named the first recipient of the ConocoPhillips Performance Award (1982) that is presented by USA Swimming to the top performer in a specific event (200m free).
"This is a huge honor, especially considering the credentials of those being honored by the NCAA," Gaines said. "I'm so blessed to have such great family and friends. Looking back on the past, Auburn changed my life. I have incredible memories of Auburn and more importantly, the Auburn people, who played such an important role in my development."
A two-time Olympian, Gaines earned three gold medals at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Over the course of his career, he set two world records in the 100 and 200-meter freestyle and was awarded the 1982 McDonald's Spirit Award, one of swimming's highest honors. In 1991, Gaines contracted Guillan-Barre Syndrome and was paralyzed for more than two weeks. Gaines fought back and one year later he won the World Masters Championships in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle's.
"Rowdy is one of my best friends and it is very appropriate for his to be recognized because of the type of man he is," Marsh said. "He has given so much to the sport of swimming beyond his competitive days. He is the face of our sport in the United States and is the No. 1 ambassador for Auburn and the sport of Olympic swimming in our country."
Gaines has called four Olympics as a broadcaster, including the 2004 Games in Athens for NBC, and will also work the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He has also served as a commentator for swimming events on CBS, TNT and ESPN. After stints as educational outreach director for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and as vice president and general manager of Mainichi Sports USA, Gaines is now the chief fundraising and alumni officer for USA Swimming.
Gaines has been inducted into the Alabama and Florida Sports Halls of Fame and the International Hall of Fame. Just last year, Gaines became one of just 14 swimmers to earn entry into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. Gaines is an active spokesperson for the Children's Miracle Network and Swim Across America.
For more information on these awards and the NCAA Honors Celebration, please visit the NCAA web site at www.ncca.org.