Simone Manuel: We Need To Get Rid Of The Racial Stereotypes That Surround Swimming

Sixty-four percent of African-American children don’t know how to swim. World Champion Simone Manuel is changing that statistic.

Simone Manuel Aug, 23, 2017

I am often referred to as “The Black Swimmer.”

While I one day hope to be known as an “Olympic champion” swimmer without that qualifier, I know that I can’t ignore the significance of being an African-American female in the sport.

When I’m referred to as an African-American Olympic swimmer, it makes it seem as though it’s not supposed to be done, which isn’t true. I work just as hard as anybody, I love the sport and I want to win just like everybody else.

I played basketball, volleyball, soccer and danced growing up, but I just had more fun when I was swimming. There were times when it was a challenge to fit in and it wasn’t always easy not having many swimmers who looked like me. But I enjoyed it and wanted to keep swimming and get stronger and faster.

As I kept going in the sport, I asked my mom why there weren’t more African-American swimmers, so we did our research, learning about Olympic medalists Maritza McClendon and Cullen Jones, and Sabir Muhammad and Byron Davis. I looked up to Maritza and Cullen because they shared a common experience and they helped me through some of those hardships with being the ‘only one.’

Discovering other Black swimmers inspired me to keep going on my journey. I believed that I, too, could win no matter what some stereotypes might be. So I worked hard every day to fulfill my goals and dreams, and the results have followed.

When I won gold in Rio, I cried tears of joy because of all the time I spent in the water preparing for the Olympics and also for the athletes who came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport.

I’ve seen the statistic from a USA Swimming Foundation study that states that 64 percent of African-American children don’t know how to swim. This is alarming and something we can change. There are more African-American swimmers than when I first started in the sport and if we want more diversity in the water, it starts with learning how to swim.

Swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent, so it’s literally a life-saving skill. That’s the first step. If cost is an obstacle, there are opportunities like the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative that provide low cost or free lessons to children throughout the country.

I want to encourage children and their parents to break down barriers in their communities and not be afraid to be the first to try something positive, such as swimming. The bonds I’ve built with my coaches and teammates over the years transcend race and words cannot describe the experiences I’ve shared with them.

Hopefully, there will be a day where there are more of us — not just ‘Simone, the Black swimmer.’ Knowing that I am a part of something much larger than myself, winning an Olympic gold medal in swimming is for the people who will follow me and find the same love and drive for the sport.

Swimming is a rewarding sport that should never be overlooked because of existing stereotypes based on skin color. My hope is that I’m an inspiration to get out there and try swimming.

You never know, you might be pretty good at it!

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[BLANK_AUDIO] You're a swimmer. How do you maintain your beauty, your hair care routine? Or do you even have one? I have hair care routine, but I think what is so special to me is when I was younger, my mom knew that I would be somewhat good at [INAUDIBLE] always reminding me, its just hair, it gonna grow back. And so with that, I think that's gonna help me in my swimming endeavours but I switch products up around depending on how my hair is working at that time I wash it at every other day since I'm in the pool Pool and when I don't wash it I just rinse it out really well and just comb it, condition it as best as I can. No definitely because it's such a big deterrent especially amongst African American women as to why they might not be swimming or that sort of thing. Do you find that you're often taking to young swimmers now that you're back state side about getting involved in the pool and And becoming swimmers because we don't often see ourselves in that arena. I'm definitely am trying to talk to more children about getting in to the sport of swimming. It's a life-saving skill, getting in the water. And I hope that what I've done at the olympics will inspire a generation to [MUSIC] Get into a sport that they never thought they could be good at. [BLANK AUDIO]