During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) shutdown, Rowdy Gaines has been top of mind. Rowdy lived through the 1980 Olympic Boycott, and his emotions are layered and complex at this time. The Boycott experience is not the same as this pandemic shutdown, but there are some similarities, certainly with the Olympic postponement. Rowdy understands how much time matters when you’re preparing for the Olympics. Many of his peers, stars in 1980, didn’t make it through to the 1984 Games. Rowdy has context and wisdom to share on this topic.
I’ve known Rowdy for 35 years. I was there for his first network television gig at the 1986 Goodwill Games (my first A-USA National Team trip when I was 17). Rowdy was the same then as he is now. While many of us know him as our sport’s analyst, behind the scenes he’s a calming presence. Representing Team USA can be stressful. Rowdy reads you and shares first-hand experience to ease your anxiety. He did that back in 1986, and year after year, and even into my retirement. Moreover, Rowdy shared some over-arching wisdom (and John Naber did as well).
“Melvin,” and I was Melvin Jr. back then, “you may well go on to win Olympic gold. If you do, remember you’re not a star, you are an ambassador of the sport. Being an ambassador means that 50% of what you do in swimming will be charity, the other 50% will be work. And the older you get, the charity will mean a lot more to you than the work you do for payment…and, you may not believe this, but the color of your medal will mean less and less as you get older. You’ll remember the friendships and value them above all else.”
Rowdy’s message, which he echoed over time, proved to be the most prophet I’ve experienced in swimming.
I hope you like the podcast.
Rowdy was a 1:33.91 200 yard freestyle in 1981 at NCAA Champs. If Rowdy had been trained to streamline and dolphin kick underwater (like everyone today), and if he had been wearing a cap and a techsuit, how fast would he, could he, have swum?
This is a Gold Medal Media production presented by SwimOutlet.com. Host Gold Medal Mel Stewart is a 3-time Olympic medalist and the co-founder of SwimSwam.com, a Swimming News website.