AUBURN, Alabama, January 4. AS first reporter in early November, former Auburn swimming greats Dave Denniston and Rowdy Gaines were selected as 2007 recipients of the NCAA Inspiration and the NCAA Silver Anniversary Awards, respectively. The NCAA will present these annual awards at a celebration on Sunday, at the Gaylord Palms Osceola Ballroom in Orlando, Fla.
The Inspiration Award was created in 2001 to honor individuals who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and now serve as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations. The Silver Anniversary Award is given annually to six former student-athletes who have made significant professional and civic contributions since they completed their intercollegiate eligibility 25 years ago.
On Feb. 6, 2005, Denniston damaged his spine in a sledding accident in Wyoming. It took two hours for medics to reach him. As a result of the accident, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Prior to this accident, Denniston was making waves as an elite swimmer. A three-time NCAA Champion, he was a member of the U.S. National Team at the 2003 World Championships.
Since the accident, Denniston has taken more than 200 steps with the assistance of his trainers and he is now able to crawl on his own. Denniston has put his communications degree to good use, as he now travels around the country as a motivational speaker.
An eight-time NCAA Champion and six-time SEC Champion, Gaines garnered 22 All-American honors during his storied career at Auburn. The 1981 SEC Athlete of the Year, he was named the first recipient of the ConocoPhillips Performance Award (1982) that is presented by USA Swimming to the top performer in a specific event (200m free).
A two-time Olympian, Gaines earned three gold medals at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Over the course of his career, he set two world records in the 100 and 200-meter freestyles and was awarded the 1982 McDonald's Spirit Award, one of swimming's highest honors. In 1991, Gaines contracted Guillan-Barre Syndrome and was paralyzed for more than two weeks. Gaines fought back and one year later he won the World Masters Championships in the 50 and 100-meter freestyles.
Gaines has called four Olympics, including the 2004 Games in Athens for NBC, and also will have the call for the network during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He has also served as a commentator for swimming events on CBS, TNT and ESPN. After stints as educational outreach director for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and as vice president and general manager of Mainichi Sports USA, Gaines is now the chief fundraising and alumni officer for USA Swimming.
Gaines has been inducted into the Alabama and Florida Sports Halls of Fame and the International Hall of Fame. Just last year, Gaines became one of just 14 swimmers to earn entry into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. Gaines is an active spokesperson for the Children's Miracle Network and Swim Across America.