By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn swim coach Brett Hawke told his team that, as a 10-year-old watching the 1984 Olympics, he dreamed of one day being like the swimmer he saw on television that summer, three-time gold medalist Rowdy Gaines.
“Never did I imagine that I would come and swim at the same college,” said Hawke, introducing Gaines to the Tigers, referring to Rowdy as a “great mentor, one of the best people I’ve met, and he’s ours, an Auburn man.”
Before Gaines said a word about swimming, he spoke many about Auburn. Thirty seconds into his talk, the swimmer turned broadcaster concisely made his point.
“I love you,” he said, referring to Auburn’s swimmers as his younger brothers and sisters.
“It’s a different feeling going to school here,” said Gaines, the SEC’s Athlete of the Year in 1981. “Those of you who are upperclassmen are starting to get a feel for that now. It really strikes you when you leave. Don’t ever take this experience for granted. It’s an incredible place you have here.
“You have a lot to live up to. How fast you are, to me, is completely irrelevant. I want to see you grow up to be really good Auburn people. To be a good Auburn person is to be a good person, period.”
Gaines then shared his story. How he came to the sport much later than most, at 17.
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you it’s too late,” Gaines said. “I am living proof of that. I am living proof that dreams can come true. Don’t ever give up on that dream.
“You have to do it together. There’s no way it’s going to work by yourself. I could not have done what I did without my brothers and sisters around me. You have to rely on each other for that love and support.”
One of Auburn’s most decorated athletes, Gaines was poised to contend for multiple medals in Moscow in 1980, but the U.S. boycotted to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“There are going to be a lot of valleys,” Gaines told the team. “The champions in our sport are the ones who can live through the valleys. That’s the toughest part. Be on the offensive to get out of those valleys instead of being on the defensive.”
Before winning three golds in Los Angeles, Gaines won NCAA championships in five events at Auburn.
“I had an incredible passion for what I did. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s not going to happen. You’ve got to have that self-confidence. You’ve got to find a way to love what you do on a daily basis. And I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, you will be successful. That’s the way we have always done it at Auburn.”
Gaines concluded his talk the same way he began, telling the Auburn swimmers he loved them.
“You are all part of our family,” he said. “And that’s a cool thing to be able to live with the rest of your life, to know you have this family that was before you, and after you, that will always be there for you.”
— Jay Jacobs (@jayjacobsauad) October 25, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer