One of North County’s very own is headed down to Rio de Janeiro. Twenty-six-year-old swimmer Roy Perkins is gearing up for his third trip to the Paralympics after making the cut after early June trials in Charlotte, North Carolina. For Perkins, a graduate of La Jolla’s The Bishop’s School, it’s just the latest coup in a long career made all the more impressive by the fact that the star swimmer was born without hands or feet.
“I started out simply needing to learn how to swim,” Perkins said of his humble pool beginnings, speaking from his apartment in Del Mar. “I ended up liking it and got together with my current coach.” What began as a hobby turned into a passion after Perkins made it to his first Paralympic trials in 2004 when he was just 12 years old. “I didn’t make it, but it was really encouraging to get as far as I did.”
By the 2008 games in Beijing, Perkins was ready to dominate and wound up winning gold for Team USA in the S5 men’s 50-meter butterfly, an experience he remembers as an overwhelming one. “It’s a blur at this point,” he says of the momentous occasion when he won gold. “It seems like so long ago and a lot has happened since then. Sometimes I forget it even happened.”
Perhaps the reason Perkins has a cloudy memory of 2008 is because he’s been collecting an incredible list of accolades since. He’s currently ranked number one in the world in the 50-meter butterfly and has the distinction of holding a top 10 ranking in four other events. Incredibly, with the exception of the backstroke, Perkins also has every U.S. record in the S5 and SM5 divisions under his belt. That’s not to mention the fact that Perkins was also a standout swimmer for Stanford University (he’s headed back there to continue his studies after Rio) and in 2006 the San Diego Hall of Champions honored him with the Challenged Athlete Star of the Year.
All of those accolades don’t come easy, however. While in San Diego, Perkins typically trains in Fairmount Village at City Heights Recreation Center. Leading up to Rio, he’s currently on a grueling six-day-a-week schedule. “I’m in the pool for about two hours a day for five days a week,” he says of his regime. “Then I’ll do weight training twice a week and run once or twice a week at my house.”
Throughout it all, Perkins points to the support from both his longtime coach and parents for his success in the water. “The coach I’ve been with has been a huge part of my career,” he says. “My parents are also extremely supportive. They come to all of my competitions. I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
When Perkins leaves for Rio in late August and competes in early September, his goal, above all, is to take home the gold once again for the United States. “My advice to people would be to find something you’re passionate about and go for it,” says Perkins. “To actually get to the level I’ve gotten to has been a lot of work. If you’re curious about wanting to get to that level, go for it and see what happens while having fun along the way.”
As for where he keeps his gold medal from Beijing?
“I have it in a display case in my apartment... along with all of my others.”