Ashley Tappin – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
St. Martin’s Episcopal
Her first leap of faith eventually set her on the path that led the three-time Olympic swimming gold medalist to enshrinement as a member of the 2020 Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
Born in Marietta, Ga., Tappin’s career began as a 9-year-old swimming novice in Tampa, Fla. She quickly emerged as a promising young star, but when she was 13, her Tampa swim coach Alan Smith took the head coaching job at St. Martin’s School in Metairie. Ashley and her mother moved to New Orleans.
“I was not born and raised here, so this is a big honor. I don’t have that legacy, and . . . to be from and raised in New Orleans is a big deal,” Tappin-Doussan said of her selection to the 2020 HOF class.
“I knew swimming was not as competitive in Louisiana as it was in Florida,” she said. “I was an all-star swimmer in Florida and I guess when I moved here it was big fish, little pond.”
In addition to swimming for St. Martin’s, Tappin swam for the Bolts Swim Team. “I moved here so I could swim for Smith, who took over Dick Bower’s Bolts Swim Team.”
Her 1988 move to New Orleans was a significant point in a career full of legendary accomplishments:
- The youngest swimmer to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials at 13 (1988);
- Gold medal winner in the 1990 World Championships in Perth, Australia;
- Three gold medals in the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba;
- Twenty Louisiana state championships;
- Six Louisiana high school records;
- A host of state open competition records set as a member of the Bolts swim team (she still owns 15);
- Three-time Junior National Champion;
- NCAA championship in the 4×100 Freestyle while swimming for the University of Florida in 1993;
- Four NCAA titles at the University of Arizona, 1995-1997;
- One of the youngest athletes at 17 to qualify for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where she won a gold medal.
- Two gold medals as a member of the 2000 Olympic 400 freestyle and 400 medley relay teams in Sydney, Australia;
- Induction into the University of Arizona Hall of Fame in 2005.
Following a freshman year at Florida in which she won her first two NCAA titles, Tappin made another leap of faith with a transfer to the University of Arizona.
“Arizona . . . turned out to be the best fit for me. Transferring is one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.
Following her gold medal performance in the 1992 Olympics and leading up to the 1996 Games, Tappin was competing at an exceptionally high level despite nagging shoulder injuries. At the 1996 NCAA Championships, she medaled and scored in two individual events and three relays, anchoring Arizona’s winning 200 free squad in 22.29.
However, the injuries were too much and after the ’96 NCAAs, she had surgery to repair a rotator cuff, preventing her from joining the ’96 Olympic team.
After a layoff, Tappin returned to the pool, making every effort to reach her prior level, despite downplaying the arduousness of the rehabilitation and training.
“That wasn’t tough at all,” said Tappin-Doussan. “The tough part was manning up and realizing ‘I don’t want to have regret.’”
Once the young darling of the U.S. swim world — she was competing at junior nationals at the age of 11 — Tappin was now a “seasoned” swimmer of 25 making a bid to earn a spot on the 2000 Olympic team.
Change again was in order.
Once dependent on “grabbing as much water as possible” with a dominant shoulder and arm stroke, under the guidance of Bill Boomer and Milt Nelms she completely rebuilt her methodology to keep her core body aligned to minimize water resistance. “I learned to use my whole body in my swim and not just my shoulders and arms. Their work really helped change the way coaches taught swimming and helped me realize another Olympics,” she said.
Today, Tappin-Doussan and her husband Russell Doussan passionately pursue charity work through Hartley’s Hearts Foundation. The foundation is named after one of their twins born in 2010 with a heart defect, corrected by doctors at Ochsner Hospital. The foundation raises money to fund heart surgeries for children in Paraguay and Russia. They have raised money to help sponsor more than 100 surgeries.
The revelation to pursue this passion began less than an hour after Hartley’s successful surgery. As Ashley and Russell drove across Lake Pontchartrain to their home on the Northshore with Hartley in the back seat, Tappin’s life changed again.
“The voice of God speaks to both me and Russell at the same time and says ‘I took care of your child, now it’s your responsibility to care of those who can’t help themselves.’”
Before leaving the 26-mile bridge, “We had called our pastor, we had called the accountant to establish the 501(c)(3) and we had called the doctor.”
For Tappin, another leap — with faith.
Story by Will Pepeguy of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.