Black Chicago swimmers inspired by Simone Manuel's historic gold medal

Friday, August 12, 2016

CHICAGO (WLS) -- When Simone Manuel tied for a gold medal in the women's 100 meter freestyle at the Rio Olympics Thursday night, she became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in an Olympic swimming individual event, and swimmers in Chicago noticed.

At the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Chicago's West Pullman neighborhood, young African American swimmers were overjoyed about the win.

"I was really excited for her because that's pretty good and I want to do that when I get older," said Maya Hooks, who is on the Kroc Center swim team.

"For her to be so young and to be the first it's, like, amazing," said Roshawn Miller, also on the swim team.

For a sport like swimming a love, a passion, begins early if you have the opportunity.

"Swimming is home. I just love being in the water, it feels amazing," Miller said.

But not everyone gets a chance to swim and for African Americans the statistics are daunting.

"African Americans have the highest fatality rates for drowning, specifically boys in the age demographic from six to 11. They have a lot of bravado, they go and do things, so it's really imperative for them to learn how to swim," said Carlos Tucker, aquatics manager at the Kroc Center.

At the Kroc Center, they focus on African American children and swimming. The lessons and opportunities range from fun to the center's USA-sanctioned swim team and, through swimming, kids learn many other life lessons.

"It's a lot of work, a lot of practice to get strokes right, to get diving right," said Deenah Fitzpatrick, Kroc Center swim team.

"Determination is number one. You have to finish. It's never, 'Oh, I got disqualified' or 'I got too tired.' You have to finish the race," Miller said.

And one gold medal moment, like Manuel's, can push the next generation.

"It inspires me a lot that she wants to inspire us to be on the swim team and win gold medals," said Trinity Hubbard, Kroc Center swim team.

The next Olympians, after all, are already in the making.

"You never know! In 2020, we may have an Olympian coming out of the Kroc Center," Tucker said.

The Kroc Center has a rigorous aquatics program for all ages, from babies to senior citizens. Currently the swim team has about 25 medals, and have already sent two relay teams and one individual to compete at regionals.