Gary Fahey
South Florida's "Stroke Doctor"


About Gary








I joined the swim team in 1976, an unathletic bookworm of a 12 year old, and promptly disqualified our relay in my first race. I swam the butterfly leg on our medley relay even though I didn’t know how. The official agreed.

1976 was also the summer the US men’s swim team dominated the Montreal Olympics. They won 12 of 13 events, broke 11 world records and produced my first sports hero—17 year old Brian Goodell, who smashed records winning the 400 and 1500 freestyles. I was hooked.

I put in a lot of laps over the next few years and managed some minor athletic successes. But I discovered my real talent was on the pool deck, not in the water. My teammates looked to me to help iron out their strokes and improve their starts. My high school coach noticed my knack for swim meet strategy and let me draw up our relay assignments. Some people have a gift for decoding crossword puzzles. I showed a talent for solving swimming problems.

I’ve been fortunate to coach winning teams and championship swimmers. Some held national rankings, some earned All-American honors. Most exceeded expectations and made me look like I knew what I was doing. But it didn’t take long for me to learn that my greatest satisfaction often came from coaching the least gifted and accomplished of athletes. I struggled to figure out how to get them to swim like the fast kids. Beating it into them didn’t seem to work. They swam a little faster, but not much better. And it wasn’t fun.

Perfect Swimming Lab, Lots of Support

My key formative experiences played out over the 1990’s working with my swimmers and their families in Avon Lake, Ohio. The parents sent me to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to learn from the leading swimming theorists and coaches, people like Bill Boomer, Jonty Skinner and Alex Nikitin. I returned home after each clinic excited to run practices that were more lab experiment than workout. I got in the water with my swimmers, encouraged them to analyze and correct each other, and learned to trust their judgements as much as my own. We tried new things, discarded old ideas. There was innovation, certainly, but it took the support of good parents and willing athletes to make it happen. We worked hard, swam smart and dominated the local swimming scene. Our first-year high school team won its conference title with double the points of the second place school. The next year we scored at our state championships with All-American relay teams. We had figured out how to turn average athletes into exceptional swimmers. This was fun!

Enter Total Immersion

I first learned of Total Immersion during this time through my new assistant coach, Gene Mills. His son Glenn, a 1980 Olympian, coached with TI founder Terry Lauglin and often invited Gene and I to coach workshops in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago—anywhere in the Midwest TI needed help on deck. The TI approach was a perfect fit. The mechanics mirrored the cutting-edge theories I learned at the Olympic Training Center. The TI drills supported and in many ways improved upon the drills we “invented” in our humble Avon Lake pool. And the notion that anyone can learn to swim well was more than a happy slogan. It was the key to our success as a competitive swim team.

Swimmers Who Love to Swim

I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2003 and branched out to teach adult swimmers and multi-sport athletes. I found the level of desire and focus among these clients an inspiration. And the nuanced level of communication—yes, adults bring more to a conversation than six year olds!—was a welcome change of pace. In June of 2007 I scaled back my swim team coaching to a couple of volunteer sessions a week and made StrokeDoctor lessons and clinics my main gig.

Many of my triathlon clients come to me hating the swim. It is by far the weakest leg for most of them, and their greatest source of cold, discomfort and frustration. I love turning that around. It is immensely satisfying to catch up with a client on race day who had a "great swim...really fun," when only months before that same athlete had nothing but dread for the water.

At a deeper level I've come to believe swimming will be the one sport we can all stick with as we get older. I have an 86 year old friend who swims (butterfly!) every day. Few of his peers still go on century rides or run marathons.

Yes, taking a few swimming lessons now will certainly help any 30-something triathlete improve on race day. But the skills learned provide a platform for a healthy lifestyle decades from now, when our bodies will appreciate a kinder, gentler and injury-free exercise routine.

I love competitive swimming and can spend hours watching YouTube videos of Michael Phelps and other world class swimmers. But it's my sense that far too many competitive swimmers walk away from the sport with little joy left for it. They'd rather walk on hot coals than swim a workout. I'm convinced that the hands-on, skill-based approach we developed in our murky old pool in Ohio created swimmers who love to swim. Many of my former swimmers are now excellent coaches in their own right. And I'm not surprised. Because as 10, 11 and 12 year olds they jumped into the pool with their brains turned on and showed me some pretty remarkable insights.

© 2021