5 Things You May Not Know About Legendary Swimmer Simone Manuel
Simone Manuel is headed to Tokyo, and we couldn’t be more excited to watch this now two-time Olympian compete. Though she won’t be swimming in the 100-metre freestyle – the event in which she won individual gold in Rio five years ago – the 24-year-old Texas native secured her spot on Team USA after winning the 50-meter freestyle at the Olympic Trials with a lead of just .01 seconds. For years, Manuel has been an unstoppable force at every level of her sport, winning 16 NCAA titles (including two team championships), 15 World Championship medals, and four Olympic medals. Here are five more facts you might not know about her but should ahead of the Games.
She Almost Quit Swimming Because of Its Lack of Diversity
Growing up in Sugar Land, TX, Manuel always loved swimming, but at age 12, she almost gave up the sport for good because she was frustrated with the lack of diversity in the pool. “I was 12 years old, and for the first time in my young life, I had begun to realize I was different,” Manuel wrote in a July 2018 letter to her younger self, published in The Undefeated. “I advanced quickly as a swimmer, so I was placed in training groups with kids much older than me. The more I excelled, though, the more I noticed a pattern developing in my interactions with others.”
Despite the lack of people who looked like her in the sport and her feelings of isolation, Manuel decided to stick with it. “I’ve come home from practice many days and just cried about it with my parents and talked to them about it, talked to the ones that I love and feel their support, and then get back up the next day and go to practice and work hard because swimming is what I love to do,” she told People during a July 2020 interview, adding, “I’m not going to let someone stand in my way.”
She Studied and Swam at Stanford University
In 2014, Manuel became a student at Stanford and a member of the Stanford Cardinal women’s swimming team. While breaking records in the pool, Manuel also majored in communications and took a variety of classes, studying everything from genealogy to nuclear energy to Swahili.
Though she turned pro soon after graduating from Stanford, Manuel told ESPN in March 2018 that she wanted to pursue communications in the future. “I’m really interested in marketing and advertising. Or maybe being a broadcast journalist or commentator,” she said. “I don’t know how I feel about commentating. Rowdy Gaines, who commentates, feels like I should try my hand at it.” While her future in broadcasting remains unclear, Manuel is now a cofounder of Togxther, a media platform dedicated to women’s sports.
She Had a Major Surgery Right Before the 2016 Olympic Trials
While Manuel was still a freshman at Stanford, she dealt with a variety of medical issues. She spent eight months with chronic sinusitis and a complete blockage of her right nostril. Then, just six weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials, Manuel had balloon sinuplasty nasal surgery. However, she kept the surgery under wraps, as she didn’t want anyone to think she was making excuses if she were to swim poorly. “So I was dealing with a lot of that pretty internally and still trying to make sure my goals were at the forefront,” Manuel explained to NBC Sports in July 2020. Despite the surgery, she ended up placing second in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, which qualified her to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
She Loves Giving Back
When she’s not in the pool, Manuel is helping others. In addition to serving as an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, where she has worked to make the sport more inclusive and accessible for children in underserved communities, Manuel made sure an inclusion rider was built into her contract with TYR swimwear. “Through this stipulation [Manuel] ensures that her partners extend meaningful opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups and that diversity be reflected in the creative efforts she pursues with the brand,” TYR said in a press release in July 2018. It’s believed to be the first rider of its kind in pro sports.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Manuel kept busy by giving back. “I’ve been working with Hunger: Not Impossible, and I actually donated several meals for people that need it during this time,” Manuel told ESPN in May 2020. “I think that’s something that is definitely needed, especially with the current situation of people not having jobs and experiencing [financial insecurity]. So that’s really something that I’m excited about, and I’ve been trying to find ways of hopefully being a catalyst to inspire people to continue to be confident throughout this time and make the most of the situation.”
She Hopes to Pave the Way For Other Black Swimmers
Even as a four-time Olympic medalist, Manuel feels as though her Blackness is still her defining feature in the predominantly white sport. During her July 2020 interview with People, she explained that people have often reacted with surprise when she revealed that she’s a swimmer. “It’s very obvious that it’s rooted in the thinking that Black people can’t swim, shouldn’t swim, or can’t be successful in the sport of swimming,” Manuel said. “I’ve gotten responses like that. I’ve gotten laughed at when I’ve told people I swim.”
While she loves to inspire young Black athletes and encourage them to get into the pool, “I would like there to be a day where there are more of us and it’s not ‘Simone, the Black swimmer,'” Manuel said at the 2016 Olympics, after becoming the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal in swimming. “The title ‘Black swimmer’ makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal or I’m not supposed to be able to break records and that’s not true because I work just as hard as anybody else. I want to win just like everybody else.”