EDITOR’S NOTE: The latest SEC Storied, “Rowdy,” debuts tonight (SEC Network, 7 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Hannah Storm, who directed the film with her own “Brainstormin’ Productions” company, offers insight on the film.
Most folks know Rowdy Gaines from his super-enthusiastic broadcasting of swimming at the Olympics!
I’ve known him on a personal level for about 25 years and have always wanted to tell his story. He and my husband, Dan Hicks, are the longest-running announcing team ever at the Olympics. They called every single one of Michael Phelps’ record-setting races.
What makes Rowdy special is his genuine passion for swimming and lifelong love of the water — it acts as the thread of our film. Rowdy’s story is unique in that it’s about a swimmer at a football powerhouse, Auburn, who actually beat out the legendary Herschel Walker for SEC Athlete of the Year.
But much more than that, it is the story of heartbreak and perseverance, after the U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980. I wanted to highlight Rowdy’s journey as a part of history — a chance that was lost for so many athletes — who were victims of what is remembered as a failed political strategy.
It is also the story of a young man who found encouragement from his family, his coach and the Auburn community — an encouragement that was sorely needed years later when Rowdy faced a dangerous and paralyzing disease.
Rowdy has become, along with Phelps, two of swimming’s greatest ambassadors and I told his story using all the touch-points along his journey with vérité scenes revolving around the water. We shot at the lake he grew up on, the Auburn pool, the Olympic pool in Los Angeles on the USC campus, the YMCA pool where he works, and his pool at home with his grandchildren.
And because it was Rowdy, who is beloved and respected, everyone from Phelps to Charles Barkley to Pat Dye to Mark Spitz and John Naber, generously gave of their time to help bring the film to life. Like them, I was so gratified to be able to tell the story of a friend — and have others come to know the humble and passionate person who is Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines.