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As a third generation competitive swimmer, Gary Hall Jr. was born to swim. He practically grew up in the water, spending summers and holidays with his grandfather in Cat Key, Bahamas, fishing and diving. His grandfather, an NCAA champion and swimming legend, would toss coins into the depth of the sea to test his grandchildren. Gary would return home with his pockets full.
At the time, no one knew what the future held for the lanky free-spirited child but they were sure it would involve water. That little boy who loved to dive for coins would someday turn those coins into Olympic gold. Today, Gary is one of the world’s most highly decorated and recognized Olympic athletes.
Some thought Gary’s ascension to the top was a foregone conclusion as both his father and uncle were Olympic swimmers, not to mention his grandfather’s national swimming achievements. But genetics was almost his downfall, dealing a blow that threatened not only his career, but also his life. In 1999, Gary was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Doctors told Gary that he would never again be able to train and perform at the elite level that saw him win four medals, including two gold, at the 1996 Olympics. There was no precedence of elite swimmers successfully training and competing with diabetes.
Gary found solace in the ocean, mentally preparing himself for life without competitive swimming. During his retreat, he extensively researched diabetes and learned to closely monitor his blood glucose levels. Gary started to exert himself more physically, fishing and diving, as he had done as a child in the Bahamas. His physical fitness gradually improved, and as someone never afraid of a challenge, he started thinking about competing again.
Gary’s return to competitive swimming was accompanied by some of the fastest swimming the world has ever seen. Silencing the naysayers, Gary won two Olympic gold medals in Sydney in 2000, including his first individual gold as he broke the American record to win the 50-meter freestyle. Four years later, Gary defended his 50m free title at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where at 29 he became the oldest male in 80 years to win gold for the U.S. team. His third Olympic appearance also made history in another way as it made Gary Hall Sr. and Jr. the first father/son duo to compete in three Olympic Games.
Gary has given every person living with diabetes proof that they can enjoy a healthy and balanced lifestyle. When he isn’t in the pool, Gary travels the world talking to parents, coaches, athletes and executives about his experience with diabetes. He is the recipient of the first and only USA Swimming Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of diabetes awareness. Gary is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and the Diabetes Research Institute, as well as being a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.