Hello swimming enthusiasts!
I am back today to highlight Lia Neal, who not only was the second African-American woman ever to compete with the United States Olympic swim team, but someone whom I especially look up to in the female swimming world. Ever since Neal was eight years old, she has been training with Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics in New York City, the same team that I have swam with for the past four years. I have always admired Lia Neal, and the new knowledge as an eleven-year-old that a member of my own team had won a bronze medal in a relay alongside Jessica Hardy, Missy Franklin, and Allison Schmitt invigorated me to keep swimming and set my goals high.
Lia Neal was born in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 1995, into a family consisting of Jerome, her father, Siu, her mother, and three older brothers. She is of both African-American and Chinese-American descent, and she can speak Cantonese and Mandarin in addition to English. From a very young age, Lia Neal loved the water, but she really began swimming when she was six years old, because her “friends were taking lessons and suggested [she] join them.” Two years later, other swim moms commented on her progress and suggested she try out for the team. She was a recipient of Asphalt Green’s Swim for the Future scholarship, which gives aspiring athletes with financial need a chance to excel in swimming. Even early on, Neal was already breaking age group records at Asphalt Green and in the Metropolitan LSC. In fact, she qualified for Olympic Trials in 2008 by breaking the 11-12 age group 100 meter freestyle record! One of Neal’s qualities that I particularly admire is her humility. After swimming to a fourth-place finish in the 100 meter freestyle finals in the 2012 Olympics, and earning her spot on the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay that same day, she claimed that her new title was “really cool.” The only African-American swimmer in her sport to ever represent the United States in the games before her was Maritza Correia, a silver medalist in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay in 2004. “I never thought about me being the second one going into the race,” she explained, “but I guess that’s really a cool title to have.” But Lia Neal’s incredible achievements in swimming didn’t end there in 2012. Now, she will be a junior at Stanford, swimming two to three and a half hours every day, and up to 8,000 meters. Just this past March, Neal made history again in African-American swimming, at the Women’s Division 1 NCAA Championship. In the 100 meter freestyle finals, Simone Manuel of Stanford, Neal, and Natalie Hinds of University of Florida placed 1-2-3, the first time ever that three African-Americans were the top three finishes.
Clearly, Lia Neal is a model for women in swimming, African-Americans in swimming, and a more diverse sport overall. I wish her congratulations on all of her accomplishments, and I can’t wait to see what she will do next!
- http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2012/07 olympic_swim_teams_second_black_woman.html