Swimmers at the Aquadome Recreation Center received an extra dose of motivation Tuesday from an Olympic gold medalist.
"You all are my little brothers and little sisters, because swimming is a family," Rowdy Gaines told the crowd of adults and youth swimmers.
Gaines competed at Auburn University before swimming in the 1984 Olympic Games, where he won three gold medals. Before speaking, Gaines met with swimmers beside the Aquadome pool for autographs and photos.
"I thought it was really amazing that he started swimming when he was 17," said Jacob McRae, a 9-year-old swimmer with the River City Aquatics Club. Wearing two gold medals from state competitions he won last summer, McRae said he was surprised when he heard the Olympian was coming to his hometown.
Gaines is now a motivational speaker who represents a dietary supplement company called The LIMU Co. He is a fundraiser for USA Swimming and a TV swimming analyst who has covered six Olympics, including the London Games last summer.
Though the sport has evolved significantly since the 1984 Games — with more money and scientific training — Gaines said the key to success has remained much the same.
"People ask me all the time, ‘What's the No. 1 thing I did to be successful?' It's because I loved it," he said.
Julie McCarley, 42, of Hartselle, said Gaines spoke to her son about setting and achieving goals.
"It shows him that, ‘Hey, I can do it,' " she said.
Katie Gallagher, 12, learned about Gaines during the London Olympics.
"When they were doing the Olympics, my mom was telling me all about it, that he swam when she was a kid and he was amazing," she said. "It definitely makes me want to work a lot harder because he's an Olympian."
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.