Former Swimmer Rowdy Gaines Gives Back Through Rowdy's Kidz Clinics


May 29, 2008

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As the 1979-80 season came to a close, Auburn's Rowdy Gaines was swimming at the top of his game. Winning four titles at the 1980 NCAA Championships, he was primed for the upcoming Olympic Games in Moscow and was considered a favorite in a few events.

Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines works on technical instruction during one of his Rowdy's Kidz Clinics.

But, that dream of swimming in the Olympics was dashed on March 21, 1980, as the United States announced that it would boycott the 1980 Olympic Games because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

In a time where professional swimming was not as commonplace as it is now, the notion of continuing training for the next Olympics was unheard of. So, with the announcement of the boycott, Gaines made the decision to retire from competitive swimming.

After some urging from his family, along with the guidance of his college coach, Richard Quick, Gaines made the decision to come out of retirement and left Auburn after his senior year to follow Quick to Austin, Texas, where he would train for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

After four more years of training, the 25-year-old Gaines suited up for the 1984 summer games and was considered an underdog in his events. But, by the end of the Games, he was no underdog as he left Los Angeles with three gold medals and a place in U.S. swimming history.

Sharing his Olympic experience and his story of hard work and perseverance is just half of Gaines' current job. Recently, he left his position as the chief fundraiser for USA Swimming to team up with the Limu Beverage Company and start Rowdy's Kidz.

Rowdy's Kidz is a series of free swimming clinics for swimmers ages 6-18. With a three-hour clinic, Gaines uses the time not only for swimming instruction, but also to talk about his life experiences and what it takes to be successful in life.

"I have four children of my own so I have always had this passion of working with kids," said Gaines. "This program gives me that chance because not only do I get in the pool and talk about swimming and skills, but also talk about my experience and what it takes to be successful learning from your mistakes, dedication, commitment, responsibility and sacrifice."

Along with the story of his path to the Olympics, Gaines shares how he came to swimming late in life, only after failing at attempts at other sports, and found his niche and success with hard work.

"Everyone has dreams. We all have dreams and I tell them not to give up on their dreams," said Gaines. "I started when I was 17 when I tried out for five sports before going out for swimming and was cut from all five. The lessons that I learned relate to them: `He started late, failed in other things and did not quit.'"

Along with the motivational aspect of the Rowdy's Kidz clinics, there is also the technical aspect of swimming. He works with the kids on starts, turns and stroke technique, but also hopes to convey a general message of wellness and healthy living.

"The program is also a national wellness initiative. It is a lot more than just doing a swim clinic," said Gaines. "If you look at kids nowadays, as opposed to when I was a kid, it is a completely different lifestyle."

Ultimately, Gaines says the goal of Rowdy's Kidz is to give the kids hope and the feeling that anything is possible.

"One of our goals is to help kids realize that their futures are bright, and that is not really heard a lot in this day and age," said Gaines. "We just want to talk to them in creating those healthier lifestyles and living them."

Along with swimming instruction, Gaines also talks with the kids about what it takes to be successful in life - drawing on his experiences at Auburn and as an Olympic athlete.

In the spirit of the broad goals of the program, Gaines does not limit his community visit to the swimming pool. Each trip is a three-day visit that includes appearances at local hospitals and schools, reaching out to all kids, regardless of their interest in swimming.

"I want to be able to reach a lot of kids and the Limu Company has given me the avenue and resources to do that," said Gaines. "So far, we have been able to do just that by going to schools and hospitals. The old cliché, `If we can just touch one kid and help him or her, it is worth it.' I think we can do a lot more than touch just one kid."

Along with his Olympic experience, Gaines draws upon his time on The Plains for his motivation when it comes to working with the kids.

"When I came to Auburn, I literally arrived as a boy and left a man," said Gaines. That growth was not just physical as I was also able to grow emotionally and spiritually. There were so many factors that changed my life while I was at Auburn, it was the most fantastic time I had in my life."

Some of the virtues he was able to pick up by being around Quick and the Auburn program are some of the same ones that he focuses on in his clinics. Along with the Rowdy's Kidz clinics, Gaines also returns to Auburn to assist with Quick in the Auburn Tiger Swim Camps.

"I was taught the importance of patience, discipline and so many things that were preparation for the `Real World," said Gaines. "Auburn teaches all that and it is great."

The Limu Beverage Company underwrites the Rowdy's Kidz program, offering the clinics to kids for free, and looks to expand it in the coming years. In its first year of operation, Gaines traveled to Monroe, La.; Dallas; Dayton, Ohio; and Denver to conduct the Rowdy's Kidz clinics.

"We have been in four cities so far and so far, so good," said Gaines. "Our most recent trip was to Denver where we went to a school with a 1000 kids, went to a children's hospital and finished with a swim camp with 100 kids."

With the 2007-08 school year coming to a close, Gaines is already looking at plans for 2008-09 and hopes to expand the program to 15-20 cities, including large metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and San Diego.

For more information on Gaines and the Rowdy's Kidz program, check out the Web site at