#Mood. Simone Manuel after her gold medal win in Rio
Last night, 20 year old Simone Manuel became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. She smashed a world record for the 100 meter freestyle, tying with Canadian athlete Penny Oleksiak. Out of all the decorated athletes of color who won during the games, this win touched me the most. I cried.
In May, I began learning to swim for the first time. After running my first marathon, I wanted to try for something bigger, better, and more challenging — the triathlon. But I had no idea how to swim and held a deep rooted fear of drowning. It’s no secret that Black folks shy away from the water. A 2010 study by USA Swimming found that between 60-70% of Black and Hispanic children can’t swim. Scary. Studies show that this lack of knowledge is due to parents not knowing how to swim. My personal belief is that adversity in swimming is post traumatic syndrome of Black folks being shipped and sometimes dumped overboard. And that fear is still stuck in our DNA.
I enrolled my own daughter in swim lessons, so that we could struggle and learn together. Because water would not be something that we would fear anymore. I also joined a triathlon team so that I could face my fears head-on. My coaches, both Black, are an inspiration to me, as well as my teammates, a powerful group of athletic women of color. I needed to be surrounded by women who looked like me to really know that swimming was possible for a woman like me.
The All Women’s Tri Team
On my first open water swim with my triathlon team, I had a panic attack and clung to my coach as we swam in the Long Island Sound. A few days ago, I learned several dives in the deep end of the pool at our YMCA. And I’ve never felt more confident.
I pray that Black men and women become inspired by Ms. Manuel’s win. I hope that they are encouraged to pursue swimming and jump over that debilitating fear of the water. I’m doing it, and I’m going to conquer my goals.