An Interview With Simone Manuel and Lia Neal: A Few Days After They Made History

03/31/2015 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2015


Until the age of 16 swimming was something that took over my life; between two-a-day practices, traveling for competitions, and supporting teammates, my time was mostly spent in the pool or cheering right next to it. I quit the sport when I went to a boarding school that had many things other than a swim team and tried new things, but I have always held my memories of swimming competitively very close to me.

One thing I noticed in my own short-lived experience and what I've continued to notice on a national scale was/is the lack of people of color, specifically other Black people, when it comes to competitive swimming. So when I read the following statement last week, I was in awe and total admiration: "Black women sweep the NCAA D1 Swimming Championship." "What?? That's incredible!!" I thought to myself as my heart filled with pride for these superstars. The gold, silver, and bronze medals in the 100 free-style went to Simone Manuel + Lia Neal, both from Stanford University, and Natalie Hinds from the University of Florida respectively, marking the first time African American swimmers have swept the podium in history.

I was lucky enough to be able to interview Simone, a freshman, and Lia, a sophomore, this weekend to ask them questions about their lives in and outside of the pool in addition to some of their opinions on the lack of Black people in their sport -

1) What's your major/what do you plan to major in?

S - I am interested in marketing and advertising, so I will most likely major in communications.
L - I'm majoring in "Science, Technology, & Society" with a concentration in Information Technology, Media, and Society.

2) Can you tell me how you balance your time at Stanford between classes, swimming, and socializing?

S - As far as classes, I communicate with my teachers early, and I study the syllabus. The syllabus always keeps me on track. With socializing, I have an easy time keeping up with my friends (especially my dorm friends). We eat lunch and dinner together and sometimes do our homework in the lounge. I always find time for naps, so that allows me to stay balanced and take care of all of my priorities.
L - In college, they say there is a triangle diagram with "social life," "sleep," and "academics" at each point and you have to pick just 2, throw in your practice schedule and it seems like there isn't enough time in a day for anything. Freshman year was definitely a bit of a struggle at first to acclimate to balancing everything but after a while you just accept all of your responsibilities and know to have some fun in the mean time as well.

2.5) Simone lived in the same dorm that I did as a freshman so I had to ask her how she likes it.
S - I love Ujamaa!! It's great to come back to a dorm that teaches me so much and loves me so much. I have made so many great friends. I didn't always have a great outlet from swimming in high school, but I definitely have that opportunity here. It's my second home.

3) What's your favorite thing about Stanford?

S - All the amazing people I have met. The school is extremely diverse, and I have met and become friends with such amazing and talented people I may have never met without coming to Stanford.
L - The Stanford vibe and the people

4) How did you become a swimmer?

S - My parents put my brothers (2 older brothers) and I in swimming because they felt like it was crucial for us to be water safe. I tried other sports to see which one I really liked, and swimming was what I liked best.
L - My friends in the first grade were taking swim lessons and their parents told my mom she should enroll me as well.

6) Why do you think there aren't many Black people who swim? And what could be done to encourage more Black people to swim?

S - There aren't that many Black people in the sport because I think people gravitate towards the norm. Stereotypically, Black people participate in basketball, volleyball, football, and track. The best thing that can be done to encourage blacks to swim is to get kids started early. They might develop a love for the sport, but the most important issue for me is that all minorities need to be water safe and not be afraid of the water.
L - Maybe they don't live near a pool so they've never come across a situation where they've had to know how to swim. Swimming can also get to be a pretty expensive sport. We can encourage swimming by letting people know that usaswimming's website has a page that shows you all the pools in your community, and people can enroll in free swim lessons if money is an issue.

8) A lot of Black women stay away from swimming because they're concerned about their hair, how do you take care of yours?

S - I've always felt like, "Its hair. It will grow back," but I just wash it and condition it as best as I can. Swimming tops hair in my case.
L - I've been swimming for so long that I don't really know what my hair would look like if I didn't spend hours on hours in a chlorinated pool everyday. Through the years I've learned that Herbal Essence and Pureology shampoo and conditioners work and I've even recently discovered this Bed Head curl shaping cream that works really well on my hair!

7) Did you ever feel like quitting swimming? What kept you from doing this if so?

S - I have felt like quitting. I always had an issue with not seeing "people that looked like me" in the sport. My parents and my coaches were always encouraging and kept me going. My parents and, I, myself think this will be a hard journey, but God has a plan for me to use my talents to encourage others.
L - Yea probably more times than I can remember! When you're in the thick of swimming, it's hard to keep in mind the end goal that you're training towards but when you do get to the end after putting in the hours and effort, you realize that the outcome is worth it. The struggle makes success all the sweeter and the pros of swimming definitely outweigh the cons with, in the collegiate sense, being given the opportunity to represent your school with your closest friends, being able to discover what you're capable of, and being able to celebrate your hard work.

I want to thank both of these incredible women for taking the time out of their spring breaks to answer my questions! I will be cheering you on in the development of your amazing careers.