The Most Decorated Deaflympian Ever
By Nate Engel
Everyday, you see people who might appear ordinary, but each has a story to tell. Gallaudet University has a fair number of them, but none more overlooked than Reed Gershwind, a professor in the Department of Business.
At first glance, Gershwind, 40, looks like a family man who keeps himself in good shape and goes about his work efficiently, teaching and advising his students. What not many see, or know about, though, is his athletic background.
A formidable opponent in the pool, Gershwind swam his way up the ranks of high school, NCAA and Deaflympics competition. Very few could keep up with him event for event, stroke for stroke in the water as he glided his way to a record-setting 30 Deaflympic medals.
Gershwind’s path to swimming success started at a young age. He was born on May 17, 1964, in New York City and briefly attended the Lexington School for the Deaf before his family made the trek cross-country to San Diego, Calif. Gershwind briefly attended California School for the Deaf- Riverside before transferring to a public school.
From an early age, his parents noticed his athletic ability, excellent hand-eye coordination and passion for winning. They encouraged him to participate in recreational sports at the youth level, including baseball and tennis, before he shifted to swimming at the age of 10.
The local tennis/swimming club staff immediately noticed Gershwind’s talent in the pool and encouraged him and his parents to stick with swimming. At first, Gershwind found it a little boring, but after he got the taste of victory in several local meets, he immediately signed up to train full time.
However, by the time he turned 14, Gershwind began to burn out with the monotonous cycle of training and competing, and he yearned for a new challenge. He decided to try baseball again, but got bored with the slow pace of games. He had a brief fling with soccer, but the sport had not yet become popular among American youth. Then, one day, Gershwind saw a game of water polo. He immediately fell in love with the sport and dove back into the pool, committing himself to both swimming and water polo.
In high school, Reed lettered all four years in both swimming and water polo for Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, Calif. As a senior, he received scholarship offers from several NCAA Division I swimming and water polo programs, and he chose California State University-Northridge.
Gershwind says he picked CSUN because of the deaf-friendly environment there — he’d aspired to be around other deaf people again. He also attributes his decision in part to swimming, saying that he would have fared and developed better as a collegiate deaf swimmer than as a water polo player.
During his college years, he participated in his first Deaflympics, the 1981 Games in Koln, Germany. It was just the first of five Deaflympics in which he would compete. Sixteen years later, Gershwind amassed his 30th medal at the 1997 Deaflympics in Copenhagen. Gershwind also became the most-decorated Deaflympian in any sport — his haul encompassed 13 gold, eight silver and nine bronze medals.
All that hardware, though, wasn’t the biggest thing Gershwind says he gained from his Deaflympics experience. He met many international deaf swimmers who could compete on the same level as him — and be friends once the races were over.
That was what got him hooked. Gershwind continues to be involved in the Deaflympics through his position as swimming technical director for the International Committee on Sports for the Deaf (ICSD). He has helped coordinate and oversee every major international swimming championship — including the Deaflympics — since 2001.