Simone Manuel won gold in Rio. She has shown millions of other young black girls that anything is possible. I think the floodgates are going to open. When Tiger Woods burst onto the scenes he made black kids want to golf. Now, Ms. Simone Manuel may have done the same thing for swimming.
However, some of us have not always been fond of water. As a matter of fact…
Growing up on military bases around the world I often found myself wanting to go to the swimming pool. All of my schoolmates of other races and ethnicities always appeared to have fun. They seemed to splash around in the pool all day.
They would try their best to get me to take part. Each time I denied them for two reasons.
- I didn’t want my hair wet because I didn’t want my friends to see my hair turn into a puffball.
- The primary reason, I was afraid of the water; more specifically, I was afraid of drowning.
It wasn’t until I was an adult did I realize there was a stereotype that black kids and adults weren’t able to swim? I guess I never thought about it after I had one of the scariest days of my life.
At age 11, I was pushed into a pool at Beale Air Force Base. I guess someone thought it would be funny to watch me flounder. Thankfully the lifeguard was alert and rescued me from drowning.
After I stopped shaking and crying, the lifeguard offered to teach me to swim. It was a no-brainer, I decided to take him up on the offer. I never wanted to be put in a position where I could possibly lose my life because I couldn’t swim, ever again.
So, I learned to swim. However, swimming wasn’t as much a part of the experience of my black friends and family as white people I knew, but why was this? While I can’t point to one single reason, there are several explanations why over the decades black women have not learned how to swim, much less trained to compete in swimming competitively.
Harsh Pool Chemicals
One reason is that the harsh chemicals in a pool can be damaging to our hair. The chlorine in the water works against the relaxer that you put in the hair. Over time you have hair breakage and shedding. You can combat this whether you have natural or relaxed hair with a shampoo, conditioner and hair wellness treatment. This system nourishes, strengthens and protects your hair while preventing damage and discoloration caused by exposure to pool, spa or ocean water.
If you wear your hair natural, the chlorine makes your hair dry and brittle. Most black woman are not going to have wet hair despite the advantages of exercise, it being a fun way to cool off in the summer and the fact that you learn a skill that could save your life.
Access To Swimming Lessons & Pools
Another issue is the question of access to swimming pools and swimming lessons. In many places there is very limited swimming pool access compared to other cities. This is especially true in many poorer or lower class communities. It can be difficult for black women to get exposure to swimming at a young age. It is in those formative years when you learn to love swimming and how to swim competitively.
Depending on where a person grows up, swimming lessons can be expensive. These seem like small obstacles to people who don’t live in areas with these issues. However, the truth is that they make for giant barriers since the earlier young black women learn to swim, the more likely they are to compete on a competitive level later on.
Simone Manuel has done a tremendous job in the 2016 Olympics. There’s no question that seeing a young black woman not only swim well, but break records and prove she is the best in the entire world, will help to make it clear that others can follow in her footsteps.
What Simone Manuel Had To Say
It is my hope that her example will lead to:
- More interest at a young age
- The organization of more programs in areas that previously didn’t have them
- The necessary funding to make sure this isn’t an example of some flash in the pan interest
As if there were any doubts about overcoming this stereotype, Lia Neal’s 2012 bronze medal in swimming was trumped in this year’s Rio Olympics. How? Simone Manual won a silver in the 400 meter free style relay before winning the gold medal in the 100 meter free style, setting a new record in the process.
There’s no question that once a previous limitation has been broken, it is easier for everyone behind them to follow suit and start a positive tradition instead of the one time exception.
Simone Manuel and many others have proven that black women can swim, and they can swim against the best in the entire world and dominate. Hopefully, the trend of teaching swimming becomes more common after the success of this year’s black women Olympians.
Lisa Dahl, a world-class swimmer turned coach, has made it her mission to bring more minorities into swimming. Dahl spearheaded and championed the Central Area Aquatic Team in Seattle. It is a three-week program inner-city youth program. There they become accustomed to competitive swimming.