GARY HALL JR. doesn’t swim anymore, but that will soon change.
The former fastest swimmer on Earth sprinted through water to earn ten Olympic medals—five gold—at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics.
The 43-year-old Hall retired from competition and settled in Santa Ynez Valley seven years ago with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children, Gigi (12) and Charlie (10).
It’s not that Hall doesn’t like the water anymore—he loves swimming—but the area’s only public pool, the local YMCA, is indoors.
Raised in sunlit Arizona, Hall is partial to swimming outdoors. And besides, at 6’6”, he needs more room than most to spread out his advantageous wingspan.
Swimming runs in his family; Gary Hall Sr. also swam in three Olympiads and set 10 world records, and Hall’s grandfather, Charles Keating Jr., was a collegiate swimming champion. They built the Phoenix Swim Club, the “ultimate sport playground,” that the younger Hall credits with his success in the pool.
“For me, it was never working out. It was just going and playing,” says Hall. “We went straight to the pool after school. It was that environment that had more of an impact on me being a successful swimmer than any genetic inheritance or anything like that.”
Following in his family’s footsteps, Hall is building something similar. He is executive director of Santa Ynez Valley Community Aquatics Foundation, which has raised more than $7 million to construct a state-of-the-art aquatic, wellness and sports medicine facility.
The foundation secured an Olympic-size swimming pool used by USA Swimming during the 2016 Olympic Trials. The stainless steel-paneled pool was disassembled and, when reconstructed at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School, will make up two pools; an Olympic-size competition pool and a smaller warm pool; both are expected to be open to the public in 2019.
“We’re handing over an $11.2 million aquatics and sports science facility,” Hall says. “It will be a great community center for Santa Ynez Valley.”
And that’s when one of Santa Barbara County’s most decorated Olympians will dive back in.
“Once this pool goes in, I’ll be swimming every day,” Hall vows.
On dry land, the influential Hall has delivered more than 80 keynote speeches internationally on advancements in sports-science and medical research.
His 1999 diagnosis of type 1 diabetes was pivotal. Hall has testified multiple times on Capitol Hill, successfully advocating for diabetes research funding; he spoke at a Vatican conference on stem cell breakthroughs; and he serves on several boards including Sanford Health International and National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute.
The next Summer Games, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is on his calendar: “That’s going to be a lot of fun!”
And in his spare time, Hall handcrafts western comic book-inspired leather belts and guitar straps for friends and musicians such as Lucinda Williams and Foo Fighters’ guitarist Chris Shiflett.
“It’s a kind of cool unexpected direction to be taking it.”
There is nothing unexpected about Gary Hall Jr. doing something cool.
This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.