ORLANDO, Florida, March 31. ROWDY Gaines has worked as an ambassador and spokesperson for decades in an effort to increase participation in swimming at the national level, and now he’s taking on a new job that has him doing the same thing at the local level.
The three-time Olympic champion started work last week as vice president of aquatics for the YMCA of Central Florida, an expansive organization that has 30 competition pools throughout Orange County. Despite the abundance of available water, very few of those pools are used year-round. Gaines, a Central Florida native, was getting exasperated by the lack of interest in the sport.
“I’m a third-generation Central Floridian,” Gaines told Swimming World. “It pains me to see these pools go unused year-round. There’s no excuse for these pools to not be used all year, with the great weather we have here.”
Gaines’ primary job will be to work from the bottom up, getting kids into learn-to-swim programs that will feed into regular swim team attendance. His first directive is to find a head coach for the USA Swimming program that can help oversee all the aspects of the county-wide swim team while working directly with the top-level swimmers at the flagship pool, the Aquatic Center YMCA in Orlando that hosts Arena Grand Prix and NCSA junior national competitions.
“I need a coach that’s going to be technique-based, with some TLC and a focus on quality,” said Gaines. “I don’t need one that’s going to grind out (long sets) every day. That aerobic base is important, but it’s not what this team will need on a constant basis.”
The template for Gaines’ restructuring of the Orlando aquatics program will come from SwimMAC Carolina, where David Marsh has turned around a city-wide aquatic program in less than a decade there. Marsh, the CEO of SwimMAC, oversees thousands of swimmers from all levels at six locations.
“He’s been doing a great job with that organization, and Charlotte (SwimMAC’s home) is equal in size to Orlando,” Gaines said.
Another model for the new swimming program will be the current YMCA of Central Florida diving team, which has 150 athletes on the squad with a waiting list.
Gaines will still be involved in his work with LIMU as the company’s brand ambassador, with the USA Swimming Foundation and of course, in his work as on-air commentator for NBC and ESPN during TV and Internet broadcasts. It’s a lot of work for the 55-year-old, but he couldn’t stand to see Orlando’s aquatic resources go to waste any longer.
“This is going to be a challenge,” he said, “but it needs to happen.”