Robert ‘Bob’ Gawboy
Bois Forte Band of Chippewa
June 28, 1932
July 15, 1987
Although the sport of swimming isn’t often associated with Native Americans, Robert ‘Bob’ Gawboy became an aquatic sensation, setting high school and collegiate records, eventually going on to break a world record in 1955.
Bob Gawboy was born on the Vermilion Lake Indian Reservation, Minnesota, on June 28, 1932. At the age of 14, his family moved to Ely where he attended Ely High School. Bob joined the swim team because it practiced at noon and he could then take the bus home after school, instead of walking 10 miles.
In 1949, Ely High School won the state championship. Bob placed first in the 100-yard breaststroke. The following year, he broke a state record in the 200-yard free, and set national high school records in two IM events. He went on to Purdue, placing first in the 150-yard IM at the East-West collegiate competition. In 1952, at the NCAA Nationals he placed second in the 150-yard IM.
Suffering from coordination problems, and a congenital arterial condition of his left leg, he was forced to stop swimming. After surgery on his leg, he started working out again in February, 1955, at the University of Minnesota, on a scholarship.
Despite the two year hiatus and short time training, Bob shocked the sports world on April 1, 1955 at the AAU Indoor National Championship at Yale, where he swam the 220-yard breaststroke in 2:38.0, cracking the world-record.
The pain in his leg was so severe during the race and the pent-up emotion over two years so great, that, upon winning, he erupted in whoops and hollers that was called war-whoops by the press with celebratory splashing around the pool.
Bob Gawboy passed away on July 15, 1987 from multiple sclerosis, but not before he was inducted into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in Lawrence, Kansas, as the sole swimmer.
Photo Credits: Purdue University and AP/Wide World Photos