Dr. Rob South to be inducted into Hall of Fame

posted Fri, Sep 30, 2016 by Jon Buzby

Rob South arrived in Delaware in 1987 and within six months of becoming a resident, picked up the phone to see if Special Olympics needed any volunteers.

“I called just to find out how I could be of service to help,” South recalled. “It wasn’t in any particular area, but I told them I had been involved in swimming in the past and asked them, ‘What can I do?’”

That initial phone call has turned into three decades of volunteerism in a variety of roles, and has earned South the organization’s highest honor – enshrinement in its Hall of Fame.

“I was surprised and shocked,” South said of his reaction when he got the phone call telling him of the honor. “I’ve never, and still don’t, expect anything for what I do.”

South’s first volunteer role with the organization was to provide basic health evaluations for athletes attending Summer Games, which was a natural fit given his profession as a chiropractor. Shortly after that his role expanded, onto the pool deck coaching swimmers. It was another perfect fit.

“I wanted to help do what I do, which is coach,” said South, who grew up swimming competitively.

His first coaching position was as an assistant with the Thunderbears, where he worked under fellow Hall-of-Famer, Marie McIntosh.

“It was wonderful working with Rob,” McIntosh said. “What worked really well was that he was calm; I was not. He was patient; I was less so. We each appreciated the other’s assets and contributions to the swimming program.”

South eventually took over the head coaching position and one of the first new programs he implemented was offering year-round training for his swimmers.

“I knew that through continued practice the athletes would increase their skill level and fitness level,” South said. “The end result would be better swimmers.”

The organization quickly realized how important his contributions were to the Thunderbears, and therefore, how valuable they could be to the entire organization. South was asked to serve in the role of aquatics director for the entire state. He organized statewide coaches clinics and CPR and First Aid trainings with an emphasis on water safety. 

“What he was doing with the Thunderbears was so advanced compared to what we were used to, we knew we wanted that type of training going on for all our coaches and swimmers,” executive director Ann Grunert said.

South was named the head coach for Delaware’s swim teams that attended the 1995 and 1999 World Games.

“Both places were incredible,” he said. “I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, the coaching or the actual experience of just being there. It was overwhelming to see the athletes perform so incredibly well. I was in awe of their abilities and how much they put out and how hard they worked to get where they went. Every single bit of it was … I’ll just never forget it.”

South has also raised thousands of dollars over the years for the organization by opening his chiropractic office a few times a year for what he calls “patient appreciation days.” On those days, current and new patients can receive screenings or adjustments free of charge in return for a donation to Special Olympics.

“I basically provide my normal services, but instead of accepting payments, I ask for donations,” he explained.

In recent years, South has had to stop coaching on a weekly basis, but has insisted on staying involved as aquatics venue director at Summer Games. In that role he ensures the athletes experience a first-class venue. And while serving in that role, he continues to get the same satisfaction he first experienced 30 years ago.

“I get so much more than I could ever give back,” he said of his time volunteering. “It’s just been incredible. I’ve been in my element — the pool — truly enjoying what I was doing, It was 100 percent total enjoyment. To be able to make a difference in their swimming was worth everything … and it still is.”