Gardnerville swimmer prepares for World Championships
How does the saying go?
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans?
It’s true, you know. Just ask Richard Cannon.
He’ll tell you all about how many times he thought he had the next 30 years
just about all planned out. And then, he’ll tell you all about how life
would step with a last-minute re-direction.
It’s how he missed a shot at the Olympics. It’s how he’s here, in Carson
Valley, now. It’s how he’ll be in Sweden next week, competing for a world
swimming championship. At the age of 53.
“When I look back, there are times where I could have gone one way or the
other with my life,” Cannon said. “I chose to try to be an example for
others. But that’s something I couldn’t have done without everyone’s support
along the way. I’m so grateful for it, I really am.”
Cannon was on the fast track to international success as a standout swimmer
for Lodi (Calif.) High School in the early 1970s.
He achieved All-American status during his freshman, sophomore, junior and
senior seasons, taking sixth in the country in the 400 individual medley at
nationals in Kansas City as a junior in 1975.
That automatically qualified him for the 1976 Olympic trials, as well as
earning him a spot on the national team at meets in London and Holland.
He became a prize recruit for some of the top swimming programs in the
country, garnering attention from Stanford, SMU and Princeton and receiving
full scholarships from powerhouse Tennessee, UCLA, Cal and Alabama.
In the end, he chose University of Pacific in order to stay with a longtime
After finishing his senior season, he competed at the ’76 trials in Long
As luck would have it, he was pitted against what would end up being the
most wildly successful men’s Olympic team in history.
The then-18-year-old Cannon struggled to a 14th-place finish against a
veteran group that included USC’s Rod Strachan. Strachan would go on to win
Olympic gold in the event with a world-record time of 4:23.68. The United
States men went on to win 12 out of 13 contested swimming events at the 1976
Games in Montreal.
“I was up against some very heavy competition and I was young,” Cannon said.
“I did well, but I didn’t make the 1976 Olympic team. The people in front of
me were already so experienced and so strong.”
It was a wake-up call for Cannon and he shifted his focus directly to the
“I kind of secluded myself into a strict workout routine,” Cannon said. “I
was just looking toward the 1980 Olympics.”
As a freshman at Pacific, he took eighth in the 400 IM at the NCAA National
Championships in Cleveland and was ranked 25th in the world in the event.
He took a hiatus from school in order to focus solely on training and began
working at the Rainbow baking company in order to support his efforts.
“I was really starting to feel like I had a legitimate shot,” Cannon said.
Then, in March of 1980, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United
State would boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan.
Deflated and tired, Cannon left the sport and settled into what would be a
30-year career with Rainbow/Sara Lee.
From there, the years flew by. He married in 1998 and retired in 2007.
“We moved outside of Jackson (Calif.) in Amador County and I took a job as a
store director at an IGA/Payless,” Cannon said.
Within four months of his retirement, Cannon’s wife, Jan, was diagnosed with
a brain tumor.
“I lost her in a matter of five months,” Cannon said. “We had this grand
plan. It didn’t happen. I didn’t know what to do.”
After Jan’s death, Cannon left his new job and sought for some sort of
purpose in his life.
“For me, it was easy just to come home and have a Budweiser at night,” he
Last year, he visited a friend in Lodi and happened to attend a water polo
tournament being held there.
It’d been nearly 25 years since Cannon had been in a pool and time had added
some weight and wear to his frame.
“I weighed 220 pounds,” he said. “I was out of shape. I tried to play, but
that lasted only a few minutes.
“Still, I ran into a lot of old friends. A lot of them had heard what had
happened. It was comforting to be around these people.”
He ran into a friend of his first high school girlfriend, Cori Rosa, and
asked if they were still in touch.
Turned out Rosa was living in Carson Valley and the friend was able to
provide Cannon with an e-mail address.
“Cori and I reconnected over the e-mail and she called me one afternoon,”
Cannon said. “I drove over here and visited with her and we starting getting
In the weeks that followed, Rosa started asking Cannon about getting into
“She really helped start thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of
my life,” Cannon said. “She suggested getting back into swimming. I really
wasn’t open to the idea. I was in no shape to do it. But I thought I’d get
in and just start for fun.”
Cannon did get back in the pool and he eventually moved to Gardnerville. He
caught on with the masters swim team at the Carson Valley Swim Center.
While his conditioning wasn’t near what it had been, the technique had never
left. In the coming months, he shed about 45 pounds
After a period of time, unbeknownst to Cannon, Rosa entered him in a
“She just said, ‘You put so much work into this, why not see where you
are,'” Cannon said.
The competitive drive quickly came back for Cannon. He started competing in
more meets and traveled all over California this season.
His times this summer have qualified him for next week’s FINA World Masters
Championships in Sweden in four events.
He’ll leave next week for the meet, which runs from July 31 to Aug. 6. He’s
scheduled to compete in the 400 IM, the 200 IM, the 200 free and the 100
“Those are the four events I feel I have the strongest shot in,” he said. “I
met the standard time in a couple more, but I wanted to set a focus.”
Last week in Santa Cruz, Calif., Cannon dropped his 400 IM time by 20
“I want to keep on with this and continue to improve,” he said. “Getting
back on a world stage, that’s been very special.”
Cannon has been swimming about an hour and a half a day in preparation for
the world meet, spending a considerable amount of time working with Carson
Valley Swim Center coaches Kat Matheson and Sarah Govan.
The two coaches recently invited Cannon to start working out with the high
“It’s really picked my pace up a bit,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve got
some really hard workers.”
Cannon also recently started working at the swim center as a lifeguard,
coach, instructor and general staff member.
He is hoping to pick up some additional sponsors both for this year’s world
championships and for the next world meet in two years in Italy. Nevada
Horse Park and Tyler Brady, DVM, have already come on board as sponsors.
“I realize it’s a heck of a time to be asking for sponsorships,” he said.
“You’ve got the economy the way it is and then you’ve got some real tragic
situations (referring to 15-year-old Dillon McKenzie, who recently broke his
neck in an accident at the swim center).
“It makes you sit back and think about how fortunate you are to even be able
to do something like this. It’s so humbling to think about someone in that
type of situation.
“My overall hope is to be able to inspire others with my story and represent
the sport of swimming in Carson Valley and in Northern Nevada. I really want
to do this. I realize that I’m not the only one situations happen to. Deep
down, I want people to see you can find positives in every situation.”
Cannon leaves for Sweden on July 29. Anyone interested in sponsoring him can
contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 304-9633.