By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, May 23, 2019
Gabrielle Rose’s plan was always to retire from swimming after she graduated college in 2000.
After being part of the U.S. team in Sydney (four years after swimming for Brazil in the 1996 Atlanta Games), she thought she was done. But a few months into the season, she realized she couldn’t give up on her dream of getting a medal.
“I decided to see if I could go for another Games,” said Rose, who was born to American parents while they were living in Brazil for her father’s work. “My sponsorship with Speedo made swimming as a professional athlete possible and was something I cherished.
“When I got mono three weeks before the 2004 Olympic Trials, I knew it was going to be tough to make the team. I came just short of getting a relay spot in the 100 free (finished eighth). It was an incredible disappointment, and I believed my career needed to be over.”
Born in the United States (Memphis, Tenn.) to an American father and Brazilian mother, Rose had the distinct privilege and opportunity to swim at two Olympics for two different countries: Brazil in 1996 and the United States in 2000.
When her parents divorced early in her childhood, swimming became Rose’s refuge. Because it was a sport she and her older brother, Matthew, could do year-round, it gave them a sense of family and stability with kids of all ages.
It didn’t take long for Rose to see that swimming was the sport in which she had the most success and fun.
“I have fond memories of loving to race during practice and being with my friends,” she said. “The thrill of seeing how much (and if) I could improve kept me going.
“When I plateaued as breaststroker, I enjoyed the challenging of seeing how I could improve in the other strokes. Throughout my career, the joy of it really was seeing how far I could go with the opportunities I was given.”
Of course, Rose took her swimming to the highest pinnacle – twice – and also competed at the 1995 Pan American Games for Brazil, where she won silver in the 100 butterfly.
Other honors included being named the Kiputh Award Winner at 2001 Summer Nationals, competing at 2002 Short Course World Championships in Moscow (three silver medals) and in Europe at the Mare Nostrum meets in 2002 – all for the United States.
She also competed for the United States at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships (silver in the 200 IM) and 2003 World Championships (two gold relay medals).
Rose said her decision to give up her Brazilian sports citizenship wasn’t an easy one. It meant she wouldn’t be able to compete for either nation for two years, and more significantly, she was giving up almost a sure spot on the Brazilian team for a very long shot of making the U.S. team.
But it was a decision she never regretted.
“I decided the pursuit of making the U.S. team was worth it because it would stretch me the most and give me the greatest chance to see my real potential,” she said.
Rose said without a doubt her proudest swimming accomplishment is making the 2000 U.S. Olympic team in the 200 IM.
She also said she’s incredibly proud of winning the team NCAA Championships her sophomore year at Stanford and sharing it with brother Matthew, who was a volunteer assistant.
“At Stanford, I had so many honors that impacted who I am today,” she said. “I loved being with teammates that inspired and pushed me and yet it felt like family. I loved being part of our relays and stepping up for the team.
“I still can feel the pride of being part of our American-record breaking relay and the honor I took on as the co-captain my final year. These are experiences I cherish not only for the achievements but maybe even more for the experiences and stories.”
When she’s not teaching her 5-year-old daughter, Annie, to love the sport of swimming, Rose has accepted the responsibility and honor of leading her family’s Rose Foundation as the executive director.
Her father passed away in 2017, and she’s been working to carry out his legacy of supporting children and families through education, health services and opportunities to develop their full potential.
She said her work gives her the opportunity to spend time and give back to Memphis and a place that really shaped the person she has become today.
“My father was a respected business leader who valued his role in giving back to Memphis to make it more of the city he believed it could be,” she said. “I get to work on my Dad’s final philanthropic wish for my hometown — the renovation of the city’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool at the University of Memphis and the pool I grew up swimming in.
“My Dad wanted to make sure the renovation created a resource not only for my local swim team but the entire community, and he envisioned under-served children having the opportunity to learn to swim at this facility. I’m grateful to be in a position to give back to my community and sport I love and do so in a way that connects people and promotes progress.”
She said most of her work involves being out in the Memphis community doing the important work of raising money for the pool’s capital campaign, but the moments she loves most are being in the water with the youngest and least experienced kids at Splash Mid-South’s clinics.
These are the kids who have a real fear of the water. She said the teacher and coach in her delight in seeing them experience taking on their fear and finding joy and strength in the pool.
“The one-on-one interactions are so meaningful, and I really believe what we are doing in Memphis is about the slow but important work of making generational change for a community, one child and family at a time,” said Rose, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., but makes frequent trips to Memphis.
“I love helping individuals feel empowered to discover more of who they are capable of being. Motherhood is a constant journey of coaching and teaching. I find it supremely rewarding to be a facilitator for my daughter’s development and unfolding.”
Twelve years after she retired, Rose attended the 2016 Olympics in Rio and said the experience was healing and inspiring and “incredibly fun” because she was there with her family.
Prior to that, she was she would always have mixed feelings about watching the Olympics but being back in Rio and watching in person changed things for her.
She also attended last year’s Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships and reconnecting with swimmers from Novaquatics and her former coaches.
“Masters swimming has been a lifeline for me throughout the years,” said Rose, who fulfilled her dream of walking in the Opening Ceremonies in Sydney in 2000. “I proudly swam on the Smelts, a LGBT team in Chicago, and was part of winning our first team state championship title. I also loved swimming with Santa Barbara Masters and competing on relays at the 2017 Short Course Nationals in Riverside.
“Now I’m more into just enjoying long course and California sunshine with SCAQ masters. I love the way I feel in the water. I think I’ll always see a swimming pool as a type of sanctuary, a peaceful place in which I can lose myself in hard work or enjoy the ease of gliding through the water.”