Local U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame swimmer Rowdy Gaines became temporarily paralyzed during his swim career but recovered and became the oldest swimmer to qualify for the 1996 summer Olympics.
Ambrose Gaines IV, otherwise known as Rowdy, is preparing to head to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as an analyst for NBC. Gaines, who was raised in Winter Haven and resides in Lake Mary is currently the vice president of aquatics at the YMCA Aquatics Center on International Drive.
“This will be my seventh Olympic Games to broadcast for NBC, and I have never been more excited to work the swimming,” he says.
“We are in the Golden Age of swimming now with names like Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. USA swimming has been number one in the sport since 1956, and that tradition of excellence should continue for the summer of 2016.”
Gaines, who is known as the fastest human in the water over the age of 50, is no stranger to the Olympics. He is a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. His career started in his junior year at Winter Haven High School, and he quickly received an offer to swim at Auburn University. It was at Auburn that Gaines was a five-time NCAA champion.
Back in 1980, the United States boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. Gaines was a heavy favorite to win big at that event, but because of the boycott, he was not able to participate. While he had thought his chance at Olympic glory had escaped him, he qualified for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Gaines earned three gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle relay and medley relay.
Gaines’ swim career took an unexpected turn in 1991 when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome. This condition left him paralyzed. GBS is a rare disorder where a person’s immune system attacks a portion of the nervous system, damaging nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes resulting in paralysis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 3,000 to 6,000 U.S. citizens develop GBS annually.
GBS was not going to keep Gaines out of the water though. After an intense two-month treatment, he recovered fully, due in large part to his background as a competitive swimmer.
He worked his way back to his top-qualifying times in the pool and went on to qualify for the 1996 Summer Olympic Trials at age 35. This made him the oldest swimmer to qualify for the trials, but he turned down the chance to compete to pursue his commentating career.