Estimated read time: 3 mins, 27 sec
Welcome to our ‘Follow the Leader’ series, which profiles the movers and shakers who are making waves across LIMU Nation.
For our second installment, we sat down with 3-time Olympic gold medalist, International Swimming Hall of Fame member and LIMU Brand Ambassador, Rowdy Gaines, to get his take on commitment, teamwork and passion, and how they correlate to success. If you’re ready to get inspired, read on for some valuable tips from this legendary athlete!
SETTING GOALS KEEPS YOU FOCUSED
My mom always talked about how I learned to swim before I could even walk, so I think I was always destined to become a swimmer. I tried multiple sports in high school, but swimming was really the only one I did well at, so I stuck with it. I wasn’t a fan of the training process, but I loved the feeling once I was done. I started to crave the ending of a workout and the sense of accomplishment I felt afterwards. But I also wanted to be called an Olympian because that title never goes away, like a Masters Champion. You’re never referred to as a former Olympian, you’re an Olympian for life—I wanted that to be on my tombstone. So, I did what I had to do to make that happen, but not without many trials and tribulations. That’s what kept me pushing to train through adversity. That’s what drove me to stay committed day in and day out.
SUCCESS STARTS WITH SACRIFICE
As a college student, you live for Friday nights. But that was something I had to sacrifice when I knew I had a 4-hour practice the next day. I didn’t have much time off during the year for vacations or holidays. I didn’t commit as much time to my studies as I probably should’ve. I didn’t even have time for dating. Instead, I committed myself to swimming. I did everything I possibly could in order to achieve my goal of becoming an Olympian, even if it meant giving up other things. I know it sounds cliché, but you have to be willing to make big sacrifices in order to succeed.
PASSION HELPS YOU PERSEVERE
The number one thing that kept me going was passion. Many times, I hated swimming. I didn’t like the pain, but it was never about the journey for me; it was about the feeling of accomplishment after a grueling workout or swim. I swam about 10 miles a day and loved the feeling after a hard workout. To this day, I still swim regularly, even though I’m not competing anymore. It truly became my passion—I don’t think I would’ve made it this far without that having that love for the sport. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be any good at what you do. You’ve really got to love something to be really great at it.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
I would’ve never been able to achieve my goals of competing in the Olympics if not for my teammates, coaches and the incredible people I trained with. I needed a team around to inspire me and keep me motivated. Because we were all working together to accomplish the same thing, I never saw myself as just one individual—it was always a group effort.
The 1980 Olympics boycott really tested our commitment to the sport. The United States was protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which meant the Olympics would not go on as usual. At the time, I was considered the fasted guy in the world. I was at the peak of my career. If not for the boycott of those Olympic Games, my times in competition that year would’ve won five gold medals, so you can imagine how defeating and discouraging that might be. But being surrounded by my teammates helped me remain focused on the larger picture, and kept me focused on training for four more years. You don’t typically think of swimming as a team sport, but I wouldn’t have accomplished even half of what I did without the incredible people around me; that’s why I gave each of my gold medals away. I gave one to my mom, one to my dad and one to my coach, but I honestly wish I had one to give away to every one of my teammates at Auburn, each of my USA Swimming teammates and beyond.
CONSISTENCY IS CRUCIAL
The key that stimulated my success was consistency. I was consistent in my passion, which translated to dedication, motivation, commitment, responsibility and teamwork. I did whatever I had to do in order to practice and get my reps in, even if that meant sneaking into hotel and motel pools to swim. I even worked as a night clerk at a hotel while training for the ’84 Olympics just so I could use their pool during the day. I worked the graveyard shift, then swam in the morning and slept in the afternoon. That time in my life taught me that if you don’t love what you do, you won’t be any good at what you do long-term, because you won’t have the desire to push through the hard times.