Ten years ago, Rob Butcher was a junior at Spruce Creek high school. The
morning announcements were read over the public address system and one
announcement particularly caught his interest, "Coach Bob Hendren and the
swim team are looking for swimmers. If you want to be part of the team, with
a promise no one will be cut, show up at the YMCA by 3:30 this afternoon."
Ten years later, Rob Butcher officially qualified for the 2000 U.S.A. Olympic
swimming trials in the 100 meter breastroke. He swam a time of 56.11 in the
100 yard breastroke, in route to winning the Florida Swimming Championships
this past weekend, almost .2 tenth's of a second under the automatic
qualifying time of 56.29. The trials will be held August 9-16 in
"That announcement has forever changed my life", says Rob. "My
step-father was an abusive alcoholic. I had played soccer for 12 years and
it was off-season. I desperately needed something to do so I wouldn't have
to go home", continues Rob. "I had taken swim lessons as a little kid so
when I heard that announcement, I thought to myself, I know how to swim".
Rob's high school career was less than impressive. He was a member of the
Spruce Creek high school swim team his junior and senior years but never
qualified for the state championships. He was recruited out of high school
by two small schools Morehead State and Georgia Southern University, neither
of which has a swim team today. He opted for Georgia Southern because the
head coach, Scott Farmer, was a Daytona Beach native and Father Lopez
graduate. "Scott had such a positive impact on my life". "He made sure I
graduated in 4 years and continued to support me while I earned my masters
degree." Scott also agreed to allow Rob to tag along to watch the 1992
Olympic trials. "I was like a little kid on his first Christmas", says Rob.
February of 1994 was Rob's last collegiate swim. He won his first and
only college conference title on his very last swim, the 200 yard breastroke.
"To date, it probably still is my fondest swimming memory. The coach of the
winning swimmer in each event presented awards and it meant Scott would put
the conference title around my neck." His time of 2:09, though, wasn't all
that impressive compared to other swimmers across the country. It didn't
even qualify for U.S. Nationals, but it was fast enough to win the conference
After that meet, Rob, went into "retirement" mode. "There is not a
professional league for swimmers and if there was, I certainly wasn't fast
enough." Rob accepted a one-year internship with the Auburn University
Athletic department that allowed him to complete his masters degree. It was
there, he met 1984 triple Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines. The two became
business partners with Rob overseeing marketing and publicity for Rowdy
"Rowdy has been a tremendous mentor the last 4 years, but the biggest
change in my life from my time at Auburn was accepting Christ into my life.
Having Christ as my anchor, has allowed me to grow into the person and
swimmer I am today."
In 1997, Rob came out of retirement and entered his first meet in almost
3 years. His times, with limited training, were identical to his best-times
in college. "I knew my senior year at Georgia Southern, I could still go
faster. That was my motivation to try again." In December of that year, Rob
qualified for his first U.S. Nationals in the 100 meter breastroke, at the
age of 25.
He subsequently requalified for last summer's nationals. But, in his
words, "I struggled miserably at both meets. I had put such great
expectations on myself and based my success on end year times."
Rob now goes into this summers Olympic trials, having experienced both the
high's and low's of swimming. "It took me 10 tries to qualify for the 100
meter breastroke. And the first 9 failed attempts all hurt pretty bad.
Failures, like the missed 9 tries and disappointments of nationals are very
humbling. But each one gave me another opportunity to grower closer in my
relationship with God and recognize that whether I ever made it to the
Olympic trials or not, He still loved me for who I am."
As for his chances at the trials, Rob is realistic. There are over
350,000 registered swimmers who try every 4 years to make the U.S. Olympic
team. About 800 will make an Olympic trial cut and of that, only about 26
will actually make the Olympic team. He is ranked 30th in the country in his
event among a potential field of about 65 participants, with less than 3
seconds separating all 65 swimmers. Only the two fastest will make the
Olympic team, but Rob still holds onto a glimmer of hope.
"I have faith in God's plan, an incredible support team of my wife
Heather (Heather is also a Georgia Southern graduate, and nationally ranked
triathlete who will represent Team U.S.A. in this years Triathlon World
Championships, ironically, held in Australia), sponsors (Prolyte Energy
Drinks, Victor bathing suits, and PK5 pain reliever), Prudential, my
employer, and friends", says Rob, "who all share in my success."
"You can never, and I mean never, underestimate the emotion of the
Olympic Trials," Rob says emphatically. "I've seen favorites and world record
holders fall on their face. And I've seen guys like me shine for a day and
swim out of their minds. Anything is possible at the Olympic Trials."
Whatever the outcome at the trials, Rob will hang up his swimsuit for good at
the end of this season. But he'll always be happy knowing he had the courage
to chase his dream.
"I'm blessed to have achieved what I did in swimming," Rob says. "I've
come farther in this sport than I could've ever dreamed. I will be very proud
to share the memories and encourage my kids and grand kids one day."
He may be able to tell his kids that he made it all the way to the
Olympics–you never know.
Rob's time of 56.11 breaks the 9 year old USMS record
of 56.29 in the 25-29 age group.