Olympic champion Rowdy Gaines focused on saving lives

Olympic champion Rowdy Gaines focused on saving lives


By Greg Bach

Olympic champion swimmer and NBC Sports broadcaster Rowdy Gaines receives heart-breaking news every single day.

“I get a Google alert whenever a child drowns and I usually get two or three a day because on average 10 people drown a day and two or three of them are kids,” says Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and 10-time world record holder. “I’m not happy about it because I know it’s so preventable. The good thing is there is a cure – and the cure is swim lessons.”

Growing up on a lake in Winter Haven, Fla., Gaines literally learned to swim before he learned to walk.

For many children, opportunities to take swim lessons and learn water safety haven’t been readily available. But they are crucial for preventing catastrophes as swimming lessons can reduce the likelihood of drowning by an astounding 88 percent. 

And great progress is being made, thanks to the efforts of Olympic greats like Gaines.


Since 2007 the USA Swimming Foundation’s “Make a Splash” initiative has given nearly 5 million children the gift of free or low-cost swim lessons. Make a Splash works to provide every child in America with the opportunity to learn to swim – regardless of race, gender or financial circumstances.

“For me I feel like we are moving in the right direction fortunately through the USA Swimming Foundation,” says Gaines. “But until I quit getting those Google alerts every single day then I’m never going to be happy.”

Consider these grim numbers: 70 percent of African American children cannot swim; 60 percent of Latino children cannot swim; 40 percent of Caucasian children cannot swim; and children are only 13 percent likely to learn to swim if their parents don’t know how to swim.

“Swimming is a skill that once you learn it is like riding a bicycle in that you’ll be able to do it for the rest of your life,” Gaines says. “It provides so much once you learn to swim, and so much freedom, but unfortunately for many parents, especially in the African-American and minority communities, there is that fear and that fear is passed down generationally. If parents can break that cycle by making sure their child is not afraid of the water – but always respects it – then swimming can provide kids with so many skills as well as perhaps saving their life one day.”


Gaines enjoyed an incredible career: there were the gold medals, the world records, the label of “world’s fastest swimmer” during his days of dominating in the pool, and the prestigious USA Swimming Award he received in 2015 which recognizes an individual’s outstanding contributions to the sport, among so many other accolades.

But Gaines cares deeply about kids, about saving lives and about being a real difference maker in preventing the horrific tragedies occurring daily around the country.

“My tombstone may just read ‘Rowdy Gaines – swimmer’ but I hope it’s a lot more than that,” he says. “I’m hoping people will remember me – I want them to remember the Olympics because I’m proud of it, don’t get me wrong – but I want them to remember the things that at least I was able to talk to kids about; especially when it comes to the water because water is part of the fabric of who I am and I like preaching that message of water safety to kids.”

And he looks forward to the day when those Google alerts become rare.

Rowdy Gaines Swimming Drownings

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