He was suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a relatively rare neurological disorder that can occur after a viral infection. Gaines lay paralyzed for two weeks in the hospital, and doctors say that it was his peak condition that saved his life. Years of training six hours a day also had given him the discipline necessary to rehabilitate himself. But it was an arduous road back. During his illness, he lost 40 pounds and needed help with even routine tasks. "The day I got out of the hospital, they had to carry me up the steps to the pool," says Gaines. His therapy consisted of flexibility exercises, daily-massages, walking in the water and, after a few months, swimming. At the Honolulu Masters Championship in 1994, he set six world records for senior swimmers. Although his fingers sometimes get stiff in cold weather, he has almost completely recovered.
Last month, Gaines, 37, moved from Honolulu (his home for seven years) to Auburn, Ala., with his family—his wife, Judy, and their three daughters, Emily, 11, Madison, 6, and Savanna, 22 months. He hopes to do public relations and marketing work for his alma mater, Auburn University. And once again, he's looking forward to going to the Olympics. He qualified for the U.S. team trials in both the 100-meter and 50-meter freestyle, but Gaines chose instead to be an NBC swimming commentator. "That's going to be so exciting," he says. "I'll have the best seat in the house."