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NBCBLK28: Simone Manuel: Breaking Myths and Making History

“I think it’s pretty cool that someone else can see me and realize, ‘hey, this is something I can try, this is something I can be good at.’"
Swimmer Simone Manuel poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit, March 7, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.Valerie Macon / AFP/Getty Images

Simone Manuel, 20, Palo Alto, CA

Olympic Swimmer

When she was younger, Olympic gold-medal swimmer Simone Manuel found inspiration in Venus and Serena Williams. The beaded, braided tennis phenoms were Black and excellent, inspiring children the world over with their total domination of a sport usually seen as reserved for white people.

Fast forward to now. Kids the world over are still finding inspiration in the Williams sisters. And Manuel.

Said the Olympian: “I think it’s pretty cool that someone else can see me and realize, ‘hey, this is something I can try, this is something I can be good at,’ just to not set limitations on some of the goals they may have.”

Arizona Cardinals v Houston Texans
Olympic Gold medal swimmer Simone Manuel on the field before a preseason game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The Texans defeated the Cardinals 34-24.Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Manuel made history as the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal in swimming. In a tie with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, Manuel won that gold and set an Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle, and she imprinted upon pop culture an indelible image of shock and pure joy as she looked over at the scoreboard.

Her total haul from Rio: two gold medals (the second gold was from the 400-meter medley relay) and two silver medals (one from the 50-meter freestyle and the other from the 400-meter freestyle relay.)


The Sugar Land, Texas native used her golden platform to speak out about police brutality and the lack of access to swimming pools for people of color. And, though Manuel, a communications major at Stanford University, said she doesn’t have too much free time, she did see the movie “Hidden Figures,” which is about the African-American female mathematicians and scientists who played an integral role in the U.S. space program. It spoke to her on a deeper level.

“It was very inspirational to see how they kept fighting and working hard for what they believed in, and they never got discouraged,” Manuel said. “They just continued to persevere because they were passionate about those things.”

That uplifting message spoke to the history-making swimmer. While she is back at college, and swimming, Manuel said she is definitely training hard “so that 2020 could be another stop along the way.”



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NBCBLK28 2017 Honorees
NBCBLK is using the 28 days in the month of February to honor 28 of the nation's most impressive innovators, all 28 years and younger. Get to know the #NBCBLK28 class of 2017.

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