We are happy to report that as an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, Manuel did not just talk the talk, but plans to swim the swim! She is helping provide free swim lessons to every student at I Promise during a week-long camp in June of this year.
First and foremost, the headline above is the main story. Team U.S.A. member Simone Manuel made Olympic and U.S. history by becoming the first African-American female to win gold in an individual swimming event when she tied Canadian swimmer Penny Olesiak for first place in the 100-meter freestyle at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Thursday night, with a time of 52.70. We congratulate her heartily, and are as proud as we can be of and for her.
According to theroot.com, Manuel used her time and her platform afterwards to speak on the ongoing racial issues the United States grapples with as she addressed the importance of her historic win.
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” the young swimmer said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Manuel acknowledged that her race does carry a bit of weight, especially as a swimmer, given the stereotype that black people cannot or should not be able to swim well.
“It is something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot,” she said. “Coming into the race, I tried to take [the] weight of the black community off my shoulders. It’s something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer.’
“The title of black swimmer suggests that I am not supposed to win golds or break records, but that’s not true because I train hard and want to win just like everyone else,” Manuel added.
The ensuing story surrounding this momentous event and its coverage has also been historic in its own right. Thanks to social media, the calling out of the faulty, biased reporting by the mainstream media on this unprecedented triumph has been equally thrilling to behold. Not only was NBC’s lack of coverage been taken to task by colorlines.com and scores of twitter fans, so has the San Jose Mercury News‘ initial insulting headline of “Michael Phelps Shares Historic Night with African-American” been dragged via a great Huffington Post article.
Personally, I am very satisfied to see a growing trend on speaking out against systemic racism in mainstream reporting and for apologies having to be publicly made and headlines re-written. Please click through the links above and enjoy the tweets and comments in their entirety.
In the meantime, I’m setting my DVR for Manuel’s next race tonight in the 50-meter freestyle to see if NBC, etc. can do better by this undeniable champion for the ages.
Seventeen years ago, her doctor’s words shook her like an earthquake: “If you don’t lose weight, you won’t get to your 60th birthday.”
Vivian Stancil, a retired Long Beach school teacher, was 50. She stood 5 feet tall and weighed 319 pounds.
“A bowling ball wouldn’t even describe what I was,” Stancil says. “I could barely walk. But I wanted to live, so I instantly knew what I had to do: change my diet and start exercising.”
That would not be easy. Stancil’s social life revolved around going out to eat every day with her friends. As for exercise, Stancil hadn’t done it in 40 years — ever, really. She not only didn’t know how to swim but was so afraid of water that she couldn’t dunk her head in past her eyes.
On top of that, she was legally blind.
Nearly two decades later, at 67, Stancil not only lived but became one of the country’s most honored age-group Senior Olympics swimmers, with 176 medals. In June, 1976 Olympic gold-medal swimmer John Naber presented her with the prestigious Personal Best Award, given once a year to the senior athlete who best helps to spread the word about health and wellness.
Circumstances made Stancil an unlikely role model. Stancil and her three siblings were separated and placed in foster homes when both parents had died by the time she was 7. At 16, pressured into a marriage by her cash-strapped foster parents, Stancil had two children and began slowly losing her sight because of an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Divorced at 20 and raising the kids alone on welfare, she survived a self-described “two-year pity party,” got married and divorced again, and started working as a Head Start preschool teacher in her late 20s. That would prove to be her salvation.
She earned a two-year degree in early education, married for the third and final time, to an usher at her church named Turner Stancil, and went on to get a bachelor’s degree from La Verne College. For the next decade, as her eyesight deteriorated, she was the first and only blind teacher in the Riverside and Long Beach school districts. She retired early in her late 40s.
“I did not lose weight with that,” she says with a laugh. “I’d carry pliers to loosen the wires or just drink protein shakes — lots of them.”
Stancil did not laugh, however, several days after she turned 50, when her doctor told her the party was over. “The next day, I broke the news to the Eating Club: ‘I love you all, but you’re killing me. ‘So this is goodbye. But before I go, I need your help: What sport should I do?'”
The Eating Club pondered. “‘You’re too fat to run or ride a bike,’ they said,” recalls Stancil. “‘What about swimming? After all, fat floats.'”
But, determined to live, she eventually found her way to Bob Hirschhorn, an instructor at Silverado Park Pool who was well-versed in training middle-aged adults petrified of the water.
Her sight wasn’t a problem, save for her inability to see lane lines painted on the pool bottom, Hirschhorn says.