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Celebrating Cav Cavanaugh

Longtime Masters swimmer and coach

Sharon Robb | July 19, 2000

Cav Cavanaugh was featured along with Debbie in USMS Swimmer magazine in 2005 in "The Sea Dog and the Mermaid". At 70, Cav Cavanaugh still loves to race.

For the second time in three weeks, the Fort Lauderdale swimmer broke the world age-group masters record in the 100-meter freestyle at the Holiday Classic Masters Short Course Championships on Saturday at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex.

Cavanaugh bettered his own record by one second in one minute, 5.27 seconds. He was also a member of the 400-, and 800-meter freestyle relays that set world age-group records. Other relay members were Alan Rapperport of Miami, Don Sonia of Fort Pierce and David McIntyre of Venice.

"Cav is pretty inspiring," said Scot Weiss of Orlando. Weiss is swimming faster as a Master than when he competed at Fort Lauderdale High in the 1980s.

While most people stop counting birthdays, Cavanaugh looks forward to them. It just means a new age group and more records to break.

"Winning is important or you wouldn't be competitive at all. You've got to have it inside you," Cavanaugh said. "I will never make the millions of dollars that Shaq [O'Neal] does, but I know he must feel the same way. I enjoy what I do. When I can break a world record, I am happy to do so."

The grandfather of two overcame a serious shoulder injury to return to form this season. He has his sights set on the May 11-14 U.S. Masters Short Course Nationals in Coral Springs.

"Getting older has some compensations, even if it means a few more pains in the knees and back," said the former swim coach at Miami Ransom Everglades and Fort Lauderdale High and water polo coach at the University of Miami.

While several top-caliber swimmers burn out or retire from competition after high school and college, Cavanaugh stayed in the sport. He has always been athletic. He was the Minor Sports Athlete of the Year in 1960 at West Virginia University the same year that former Los Angeles Lakers great and Hall of Famer Jerry West was the Major Sports Athlete of the Year.

"I really have always done it," Cavanaugh said. "It's something that seems normal to me and to most of us who swim well. We enjoy what we are doing. We like the competition—training—camaraderie and the bettering of yourself. Even if you are the 50th-place swimmer in an event, you have gotten better and you feel good about yourself. That's what Masters swimming is all about."

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The Hall of Fame Award is given to Cav by Florida Gold Coast LMSC

The Florida Gold Coast LMSC gave Cav their highest honor, the Hall of Fame Award at their annual awards banquet on December 18, 1998. Jim Lilley presented the award with the following comments:

I'd like to tell you a little about this year’s recipient of the Hall of Fame Award. Cav Cavanaugh is

  • a USMS All-American,
  • 17 times national champion from 1996 through 1998,
  • holds six relay world records,
  • holds an individual world record, and,
  • was the 1996 and 1997 swimmer of the year.

These achievements tell us what kind of great swimmer Cav is. They don't tell us much about the person. Cav is a fierce competitor with an incredible desire to win, which he often does. Even when he doesn't, he takes great satisfaction and pride in having put in his best effort. Those of us who have had the honor to train and compete with Cav know he takes just as much pride in his teammates and fellow swimmers as he does in his own accomplishments. His enthusiasm in the water, on the pool deck and anywhere else he goes, brings us all up to another level. We do better when he is around, we laugh a lot more and most importantly, we all get our splits. As much support as he gives us, there is someone who gives him all the support in the world. We should all be so lucky to have a supporter like her. I know this for a fact because of the long hours I have spent talking to Debbie waiting for Cav to come out of the locker room. Whenever I tell someone I swim with Cav Cavanaugh, I do so with a great deal of pride. I hope everybody in this room does the same. This award is meant to honor the recipient, but I will be selfish at this moment, on behalf of all of us who know you Cav, it is our honor to have you here. Congratulations Cav.

The following is by Bill Quayle and from the Florida Gold Coast Newsletter

The first time I had the pleasure of meeting Cav Cavanaugh was at the Coral Springs Masters Relay Meet. When I discovered that Cav and I were swimming on the same age group (well almost, anyway) relay teams, we struck up an introductory conversation, quipping of his Irish heritage (I'm Manx) and of course, discussing the order of swimmer in the relay and who swims what. I, who knew no one in the Masters program, at the time having just started a few months prior reacquainting myself to swimming and its rigors after a 35 year hiatus, was struck by the man's spirit and his focused intensity. Even with his low-key approach and understatements, he had an unmistakable competitive intensity. From that time on, my first impressions were more than confirmed. In the year or so now since our first introduction, that spirit and focus have translated in the supreme achievements and awards he has now reaped, i.e. national record holder in several events, national champion, and Gold Coast Swimmer of the Year (one of the nation's most powerful swim teams). Since most Gold Coast Masters (GCM) swimmers did not attend the awards presentation at the Hall of Fame (40+ attended of our 600+ membership), I was asked to provide an introduction to Cav Cavanaugh to these attending GCM and talk about this man's achievements.

Cav started swimming formally with lessons at seven at his YMCA. Through his "formidable" years (adolescent, high school and under) Cav did not swim because it was not offered in those years at school. His competitive edge was whetted racing. It is therefore remarkable for an uninitiated individual to "walk on" a university swim team and make the traveling squad. This man's not only succeeded in making the squad, he was so well respected and achieved, he was the West Virginia team captain both his junior and senior years. His senior year, he won the 100-, and 400-yard freestyle at the Southern Conference Meet. He was recognized by the West Virginia Downtown Club as the "Most Valuable Swimmer." WVU bestowed an even greater honor by awarding him the "Best Athlete of all Minor Sports". As an aside, that same year, the exceptional Jerry West, the Pro Basketball Hall of Famer and everyone's All-America was named the "Major Sportsman of the Year". Pretty elite company!

In 1960 Cav graduated from WVU, started a family and for nine years taught and coached successfully. His coaching achievements included a stint at the University of Miami. In 1967, the Coral Park girls were the first high school water polo state champs. Moreover, he developed numerous All-Americans, including his three sons. Chris, his middle son, is an Olympic gold medalist at the 1984 Olympics.

Cav, being Neptune oriented, is a sailboat yacht captain and presently lives on his boat with Debbie, his wife, who in her own right is also an excellent swimmer.

This year (1996) for anyone and for Cav, of course, is a year on equal or greater par with his WVU days. This year, Cav won five individual events in the Long Course National Championships at the University of Michigan. He won the 50, 100, 200, and 400 freestyle events and the 50 butterfly. Five events are all that one is allowed to swim at these championships! He bested the reigning and this year's world champion in several of these events. If only our powerful Gold Coast team had relay teams, Cav might have equaled Mark Spitz's remarkable seven golds. Do I need to say that we have an exceptional man in our midst to serve as a "best example" of achievement and a person we must set our goals by?

All the above accolades could be sullied, as many things seem to be nowadays by the selfish "what's in it for me" attitude displayed by so many elite athletes. I can truthfully say with great pleasure that this is not a Cav Cavanaugh characteristic. He is just as willing to "try" a relay to "help the team" as do an individual event. We have an enthusiastic team man here, and I challenge all of you to try and match this man in both his physical and his personal examples.

So when you hear that Cav and Debbie are swimming today—please introduce yourselves to them. They will genuinely love it, and you, my fellow Gold Coasters, will too!

by Bill Quayle, published in the Florida Gold Coast Masters Newsletter, March, 1997

Swimmer of the Year, by Debbie Cavanaugh , October 24, 1996

The winner of this year's Swimmer of the Year Award started his swimming career taking lessons as a naked seven year old at the YMCA. He then graduated to the ole swimmin hole which was then the Ohio River. As a Boy Scout, he competed in all the events and won them all. At the high school level, there was no swimming program so he got involved with the Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers racing cars. As you can see, he's always been in the fast lane.

He was a standout at West Virginia University where he was captain of the swim team his junior and senior years. As a senior, he won the 100 free and the 440 free at the southern conference meet. The West Virginia touchdown club recognized him as the most valuable swimmer. WVU also named him the best athlete of all minor sports awarding him the "minor sports award". Jerry West recieved the "major sports award" that same year. If only swimming was sponsored like basketball!

In 1960 he graduated from WVU and started a family. For the next 19 years he taught and coached at the college and high school levels.

In 1967 his Coral Park girls were the first state high school water polo champions.

He produced numerous All-Americans in both swimming and water polo, including his three sons. The middle son, Chris, went on to win a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Even though his own swimming career was put on hold, he always seemed to get in the pool and swim a 1,000 with the kids. A definite challenge for the kids to try and beat the coach.

He was there when Masters swimming came to be and held numerous records. In 1973, at age 37, he won the 50 free.

In 1977 he left the swimming scene and pursued a career as a yacht captain. It was always a dream of his to be on the ocean. For the next 14 years swimming was not on his mind, but catching lobster and chasing me (Debbie) around the boat as he sailed the Carribean was!

He re-emerged in swimming this year as a 60 year old. Younger guys get on the blocks with him and can't believe when he beats them. He is someone to be reckoned with.

This year at the YMCA Nationals, not only did he win the 50 free, 100 free, and the 100 IM, but he broke the national YMCA records in both the 50 and 100 free.

At the USMS short course Masters nationals in California, he won the 50 free, the 100 free, and the 50 fly.

After a short break in May with a trip to St. Thomas, he was back training for Michigan. At long course nationals in Michigan his success will probably not be matched by anyone for a long time. I'm told he is the first male swimmer ever from Florida to win five gold medals at one championship. Amazingly enough, he won all the freestyle events except the 800 free which he did not enter. He won the 50, 100, 200, and 400 free along with the 50 fly. Not many can claim to be a sprinter and also win at the distance events. He went head to head with the current world champion (who had just returned from the world championships in England) and destroyed him in every event they swam together. Five golds medals in five events.

Nark Spits better watch out!

A few weeks ago at the Dixie Zone Championship he did it again winning five for five. He also set a national short course meters record in the 50 free.

He has no coach, but since we work out together, I try to give him a few pointers, but, of course, he doesn't listen. At our local meets he enjoys the camaraderie and competition. He has inspired many throughout the years. His eyes will sparkle when you ask him about his swimming. Don't be surprised if he tells you about his wins and lets out a loud "yeh."! I'm very proud to present the male swimmer of the year award to my husband, coach, and best friend, Cav Cavanaugh.

Spoken by Debbie at the International Swimming Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony held by Florida Gold Coast Masters LMSC

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