Del Mar swimmer has gold in sights at Paralympics

Del Mar swimmer has gold in sights at Paralympics
Team USA Paralympic swimmer and Del Mar resident Roy Perkins, Jr. is aiming for a gold medal in what could possibly be his last games.. Photo by Kevin McCarthy

DEL MAR — For someone who feels as natural in the water as anything, Roy Perkins Jr., is contemplating hanging up the goggles.

Though the Del Mar resident has a couple of things he wants accomplish later this month before making any final decisions about that — namely, winning another gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Rio.

His other goal: beating longtime rival and Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias.

“It’s kind of like an all or nothing thing,” Perkins, 26, said. “Not that I couldn’t come back next time, but I’ve put so much training into this. Also my main rival is from Brazil, so that kind of puts emphasis on it.”

The swimmers have exchanged wins and losses for “forever,” according to Perkins’s coach Don Watkinds.

Between them, all the competitions have been won or lost within a couple tenths of a second, said Watkinds.

Perkins has never beaten him in freestyle, which is something he said he wants to do this time around.

But Perkins, who was born without hands and feet, said his swim year has been filled with some ups and downs, though he added that he’s peaking just at the right time for the Paralympics.

Learning to swim some 13 years ago, Perkins remembers the feeling he had on first entering the pool.

“I just remember it was kind of a weird feeling,” Perkins said. “Not necessarily bad, just a new environment. I never would have imagined that I’d be competing for the gold medal doing that,” he said.

Now, he doesn’t think twice about being in the water.

That much is apparent with the number of medals he’s already won. For the swimmer whose best event is the 50-meter butterfly, he brought home a gold medal from the 2008 Beijing Games in that race. Over his two appearances in the Paralympic Games, the other being the 2012 London Games, he’s won six medals, including the gold.

When Watkinds first met Perkins 13 years ago he didn’t know what kind of swimmer — if one at all — Perkins would be.

“He (Perkins) wanted to swim and we had a place to swim,” Watkinds said.

It began simply enough.

After a year of working together, though, he could see the swimmer’s potential emerging.

“He put in the time, he put in the work and he put in the effort, both mentally and physically,” Watkinds said. “And at that point you knew that we had a chance to be competitive and to do something,” he said.

Watkinds has spent many years training swimmers that eventually went on to compete in the Paralympics.

After not winning the gold medal in London, Perkins said the last four years have been focused on getting back to the center podium.

“The hard training is actually done,” he said as he readies to head to Rio. “I’m in the pool everyday, but not swimming really hard.”

As a veteran competitor in the Paralympic Games, Perkins, who Watkinds described as “quiet,” but who has a “great sense of humor,” is expecting to help the younger and first time athletes adjust.

“Definitely,” Perkins said. “It can be a little overwhelming, and having been to two, I think really helps. I’m expecting to be very calm and relaxed. At least I am right now. There’s always a little bit of nerves once I get there.”

But a few months ago, he took a trip to Rio to get a sneak peek at the venues.

“It should be pretty smooth for me, so hopefully I can help some of the newer people adjust to it,” Perkins said.

He hasn’t heard from other Team USA swimmers that have already competed in the Olympics about what to expect, though.

What Watkinds envisions for Perkins this time around: “All golds, of course,” he said with a laugh.

Even though it might be Perkins’s last games, Watkinds said physically, he’s capable of coming back and winning again.

“If he decides he wants to do it, he’s well within his abilities to come back and do his best-ever swims,” Watkinds said.

And while swimming will take his attentions when the games open Sept. 7, Perkins, on his return, will be on the move shortly thereafter, when he heads north to the campus of Stanford, where he’ll resume his education, majoring in Earth Systems.


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