On the University of Florida swim team, it would be easy to say new assistant coach Gemma Spofforth is great for the job because of her impressive swimming resume – Former Gator, British Olympian, and world record holder. But Gemma says she doesn’t feel the need to be defined by her identity in the pool.
The English swimmer retired from competition after placing fifth in the 100 backstroke in front of a home crowd at the London Olympics. In her new role as a volunteer assistant coach for Florida swimming, she’ll be helping out on deck alongside head coach Greg Troy instead of in the water. But her main responsibility is a role she’s quite familiar with – counseling swimmers. She’s back at the University of Florida to earn her graduate degree in counseling, but associate head coach Martyn Wilby says she’s been a listening ear for teammates ever since she first became a Gator.
Maybe it’s because Gemma knows firsthand the importance of supportive coaches; her journey hasn’t been easy. After a health condition almost ended her swimming career in 2005, Gemma recovered only to lose her mother to cancer two years later. She says her mother was always her biggest supporter and she still inspires her today.
Now, helping others like herself is her main focus – whether it’s at the pool or a different arena. Gemma started volunteering at the Alachua County Crisis Center in her undergrad years. Now, she plays a key part in their support system – answering phones for the crisis line and even staying on call through the night to respond to emergency situations like suicide attempts just to help people when they need it most. Crisis Center Director Marshall Knudson says Gemma’s skills in the pool are what make her work so well with people in crisis.
Now, Gemma hopes to take her passion for helping people international with an organization called Right to Play. The organization teams up with popular athletes like hockey’s Alexander Ovechkin, soccer’s Frank Lampard, and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Aaron Ross to help teach children how to use sports to overcome obstacles in life. She’s currently training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for the program. Wilby says it’s no surprise Gemma wants to find new ways like this to help.
Add that desire to the top of her resume. For ESPN Radio 850/900, I’m Tori Petry.