You may not have known her name when the Summer Olympics kicked off in early August, but you undoubtedly know it now. Simone Manuel made history in Rio on Aug. 11 when her win in the 100-meter freestyle set a new Olympic record and made her the first female African-American swimmer to win a gold medal in an individual event. While she's clearly a powerhouse in the pool now, when Manuel began swimming at a young age, it was in a way many of us can relate to.
Manuel wasn't dreaming of breaking Olympic records when she dipped her toe in the water for the first time; she wasn't even thinking of competitions. Her parents introduced her to swimming by enrolling her in swim lessons at age 4, Manuel said in her Olympic Team USA bio video. The idea wasn't to turn Manuel into an athlete but simply to make sure the then-toddler and her brothers knew how to be safe in the water.
"They didn't care if I pursued it later on," Manuel said in her bio video. "The only thing they cared about was that I learn how to swim."
But Manuel took away more than just basic swimming skills from those early lessons, she gained a love of the sport. By age 6, Manuel was swimming in a local summer league in Sugar Land, Texas, and at age 9, she had committed to swimming year-round. As a child, Manuel says she gave other sports a try, but continually came back to swimming. "I played basketball, volleyball, ran a little bit, soccer, did ballet for 11 years and I think it just came down to [the fact] I had more fun when I was swimming." Eventually, Manuel opted to stop participating in other sports in order to focus solely on swimming.
Inspired by Michael Phelps' performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (he swam his way to eight gold medals that year), then-11-year-old Manuel dreamed of swimming on the U.S. Olympic Team one day. "I definitely [remember watching] Michael Phelps and just all the amazing things he's done for the sport of swimming," she told US Weekly. "I think when I watched him swim in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics — I was really, really impressed. I was like, 'I want to do that one day!' Maybe not the eight gold medals, but go to the Olympics!"
Eight years later and Manuel is pursuing her goals by breaking Olympic records, making history, and likely inspiring a whole new generation of swimmers to chase their dreams.
Image: Brit Phillips/Bustle (1)