Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines Speaks to Menifee Swimmers

Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines (center) met with members of the new Paloma Valley High School swim team, which will begin competition this spring at the new Perris-Menifee Valley Aquatic Center. At the far right in the back row are the Paloma Valley swim coaches, Bill Ackerman and Gina Guilkey
Story and Photos by Kristen Spoon

Rowdy Gaines, a three-time gold medalist in the 1984 Olympics and NBC swimming analyst, spoke to a group of enthusiastic student-athletes at Paloma Valley High School Thursday to celebrate the formation of swim teams at Paloma Valley and Heritage high schools.

Gaines, a well-known motivational speaker to young people across the country, talked to the students about what to expect when learning to become a competitive swimmer. Nearly 200 students from the two local high schools have signed up to compete in the first year of their swim programs. They will practice and compete at the new Perris-Menifee Valley Aquatic Center, which is scheduled to open next month.

"Swimming is not for the faint of heart," said Gaines, who set world records in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle in the early 1980s before winning three gold medals at the '84 Games in Los Angeles.

"I wish there was some sort of pixie dust I could sprinkle on you and you all become Olympic swimmers, but there isn’t. It’s hard work. Most things that have value and are worth anything take a tremendous amount of commitment and dedication.

"But I will also tell you that there are two main reasons you want to be a swimmer. One is to swim fast. Two is to have fun. There’s no way you’re going to be any good in this sport unless you enjoy it. Do you have to love it every single second? Absolutely not. I hated swimming – sometimes. The key word for enjoying it as much as possible is consistency."

Among the crowd of students in the Paloma Valley theater was a large group of the Wildcats swimmers who will compete for coaches Bill Ackerman and Gina Guikley. Although most schools' swim schedules are set at this late date, Paloma Valley and Heritage will compete in exhibition meets and find open dates on opponents' schedules as they build their programs.

Also present was Charlene Busch, a local resident who was a driving force in convincing County Supervisor Marion Ashley and the Riverside County Economic Development Agency to support the idea of an aquatic center. The 12-acre facility, which includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, water slides and a "lazy river" feature, is located next to the Big League Dreams baseball complex on Trumble Road north of Highway 74.

Heritage's swim team will be coached by Davina Ellis, wife of the school's boys basketball coach. The Patriots expect to have 60-80 students in their swim program, said athletic director David Drake.

The students enjoyed listening to and chatting with Gaines, who let many of them hold and wear one of his gold medals.

"When I first tried out for swimming in school, the coach put me in the 500 freestyle," Gaines told the students. "I didn’t even know how to do a flip turn. That's 20 lengths of the pool. I barely finished; it took me nine minutes. I started out on the E relay team, but I outswam everyone on that relay. I knew when I finished my 50 yards and saw the surprised look on my coach's face ... at that moment, I said 'I want to be an Olympian.'

"You should never give up on your dreams."

Rowdy Gaines demonstrates swim technique to one of the younger audience members.

From left: Paloma Valley principal Don Williamson, Rowdy Gaines, Paloma Valley athletic director Michael Pfeiffer.


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