The Arbor Outlook: War Eagle, Perseverance, Wainwright

“This summer I went swimming... this summer I might have drowned; But I held my breath and I kicked my feet and I moved my arms around...”
—from “The Swimming Song,” by Loudon Wainwright III

His parents named him Ambrose, and he could swim before he could walk. A venturesome and active toddler, he was nicknamed Rowdy. Often he would roll off the dock and into the water at his parents’ central Florida lakefront home, frightening friends and relatives. But he always popped back up like a cork on a fishing line. By eight months, he was dog paddling 20 feet or more.

In his second year of competition, he won a Florida state high school championship and a scholarship to Auburn University.

At Auburn, he set school records, was a five-time NCAA champion, and established himself as one of the fastest swimmers in the U.S. Eventually he would set 10 world records. His ultimate goal was to represent our country in the 1980 Olympic Games.

How good was Rowdy Gaines? In 1981, he was voted the Athlete of the Year in the Southeastern Conference.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, and rather than send our athletes to Moscow, President Carter decreed that we would boycott the Games there. Gaines was devastated. He had missed his window. Sprint swimming was for young men, not 25 year olds, the age he would be at the 1984 Summer Games in L.A. He left the pool for several months before his father convinced him to return to his regimen and try again in ‘84.

Gaines had little money, and often swam his morning practice after working all night at a local motel. In L.A., he won three gold medals. Seven years later he was afflicted with Guillain-Barre’ syndrome and became temporarily paralyzed. After recovering, he returned to the pool, and at age 35 became the oldest competitor to qualify for the 1996 Olympic swimming trials.

I am not a swim fan per se, but I recently watched a documentary on Gaines’ life and was astounded at his perseverance. We need a similar commitment in our financial lives to become and remain successful. We all experience hurdles and setbacks; the road to financial security is rarely smooth and straight. It takes willpower and sacrifice to become financially successful and provide for a comfortable retirement.

Many of us have faced burdensome debt, made poor financial decisions, and experienced financial misfortune. Most successful folks can recall more than a few mishaps. The question is: how do we respond to economic adversity? We can allow ourselves to sink. Or we can rise again to the surface and pull ourselves across the water.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.