Simone Manuel inspires more African-Americans to swim

World Today

Simone Manuel inspires more African-Americans to swim

Although the Rio Olympics is history, many are still talking about the splash American swimmer Simone Manuel made. Manuel won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, becoming the first African-American woman to win an individual gold in swimming.

Some found her story inspiring, others have been in awe as swimming isn’t a sport associated much with African-Americans.

CCTV America’s Karina Huber has the story.

Simone Manuel inspires more African-Americans to swim

The recent gold medal won by U.S. Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel could inspire more African-Americans to participate in swimming. CCTV America's Karina Huber has the story.

Meagan Menefee takes her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Nola, to the pool at least twice a week. She started taking swimming lessons when she was 7 months old. “For safety reasons it is very important to get her comfortable going into the water and learning basics from a very young age,” Menefee explained.

Megan grew up near the water and learned how to swim also at a young age.

However, a majority of girls in U.S. who look like Nola don’t have a tradition of swimming in their families and aren’t getting the same training. In a 2010 study by the national governing body of U.S. swimming, almost 70 percent of African-American respondents reported “no swimming skills” or “low skills.” In fact, an average of 64 percent of minorities in America also report poor swimming skills. Among whites, that number is 42 percent.

“There are several explanations as to why black Americans are so much less likely to know how to swim than white Americans,” said University of Montana’s history professor Jeff Wiltse. “The primary root cause is past racial discrimination that occurred between 1920 and 1970 that severely restricted black Americans access to pools, to swimming lessons and to swimming teams.” Wiltse is also the author of “Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.”

The dismal swimming statistics among African-Americans can have horrifying consequences. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children and teenagers are almost six times as likely as white children to drown in a swimming pool.

Many experts also see a correlation between income and swimming ability. To change this, Wiltse believes the government should build more public pools in minority neighborhoods, and offer free or low-cost swimming classes.

The recent gold medal won by U.S. Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel could also help inspire change. “What her victory does is that it dispels or certainly undermines the widespread prejudice, the widespread stereotype that people of African ancestry are less capable swimmers than people of European ancestry,” Wiltse said.

Menefee sees it the same way. “Those are not the sports that minorities are winning the gold medal in,” she said. “So I think she’s an amazing role model for people to see.” And hopefully when Nola grows up she’ll have plenty of role models like Simone Manuel to inspire her.