These Black Women Swimmers Are Ready to Make History at the 2016 Olympics

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by Anna Malaika Nti-Asare 

Two Black women are going to make history when they compete together at the Olympics in Rio. Swimmers Simone Manuel and Lia Neal will be the first to compete together for the U.S. Olympic team. Not only are they blazing trails, but the Stanford students are dispelling notions that "Black people don't swim."

19-year-old Manuel is from Sugarland, Texas. She currently holds the American record in the 100-yard freestyle. 

Manuel started swimming because of her parents.

“My parents put my brothers and me in swimming because they felt like it was crucial for us to be water safe," she told me last year. "I tried other sports to see which one I really liked, and swimming was what I liked best.”

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Kevin C. Cox
Manuel continued: "The best thing that can be done to encourage black people to swim is to get kids started early. They might develop a love for the sport, but the most important issue for me is that all minorities need to be water safe and they shouldn’t be afraid of the water."

This is the type of early encouragement most Black children don't get. One study shows 60-70% of Black kids do not know how to swim. 

That lack of diversity in swimming almost prompted her to quit the sport. 

 “I have felt like quitting," she said. "I always had an issue with not seeing people that looked like me." 

But her support system wouldn't let her give up. "My parents and my coaches were always encouraging and kept me going." 

"God has a plan for me to use my talents to encourage others.” 

21-year-old Neal was born in Brooklyn, New York. In her Olympic debut back in 2012, she won a bronze medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay, which made her the first Black woman to swim an Olympic final for the United States. 

At Stanford, her major is Science, Technology and Society with a concentration in Information Technology, Media, and Society. 

Neal say swimming isn't diverse because it "can get to be a pretty expensive sport." 

She recommends anyone interested to head to USA Swimming's website. It "shows you all the pools in your community, and people can enroll in free swim lessons if money is an issue,” she said.

Like Manuel, Neal says she's thought quitting "more times than I can remember." But all struggles pay off. "It's hard to keep in mind the end goal that you're training towards," she said. "But when you do get to the end after putting in the hours and effort, you realize that the outcome is worth it. 

These two hard-working, talented, and humble individuals are also testament to the constantly proven fact that when we, Black people, are given the opportunities and resources we can excel at anything. 

Lia and Simone, thank you for reminding us of this, thank you for representing all of us at this world stage – you are making your community incredibly proud.

Anna Nti-Asare is a writer and teacher based out of Stockton, CA. She is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and Stanford University.