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Sugar Land Swimmer Breaking Stereotypes On Way To Rio

The Summer Olympic Games begin August 5, and Sugar Land native Simone Manuel will be there. For Manuel, making the Olympics as a 19-year old is not surprising. Making the Olympic team as an African-American is.

Simone Manuel
Simone Manuel

The road to Rio is not an easy one. For Sugar Land native Simone Manuel, it began at an early age.

"I started swimming when I was four and that was just swim lessons, and then I did summer league swimming at the age six, and then I decided I wanted to do year-round swimming at the age of nine," says Manuel.

At ten years old Simone says she earned her first state record. At 19, Manuel made the U.S. Olympic team.

"Seeing the Olympic rings by my name I was just in shock, I just didn't really know what to do, I didn't know how to react. I think the only thing I probably said inside my head was, ‘Thank God.’ But, I definitely was really excited," she says.

The excitement of making the Olympic team is preceded by thousands of hours of preparation. Manuel's current practice schedule includes at least nine workouts a week. But the commitment began before she became a teenager.

Allison Beebe was Manuel's coach with the First Colony Swim Team in Sugar Land.

"It's a lifestyle. It's not only the hard work at the pool, but making smart choices socially. In terms of nutrition, making sure that they're helping the recovery process in between practices. The family needs to be supportive but not pushy. So it's a lifestyle, and it's a healthy lifestyle if managed correctly,” says Beebe who now coaches with the Santa Clara Swim Club in California.

Hard work is the norm for an Olympic athlete. What makes Simone's path unique is the color of her skin. She’s African-American.

"Around the age twelve was when I came home from practice and asked my mom, ‘Why aren't there many people like me in the pool?’ And I think she was kind of surprised by that, but she helped me, we got some information, and we got some answers and from then on I was like, this is what I love to do even though there aren't many people like me doing it," she says.

And “do it” she has. As a freshman at Stanford, Manuel won the NCAA 50-meter freestyle. She sat out this past year to train for the Olympics. And after a couple of weeks in San Antonio, the Olympic swim team has gone on to Atlanta before their trip to Rio.

"Last time I've been in Sugar Land was Christmas," says Manuel, who won’t make it back to town until after the Olympics.

Now her focus is set on Olympic glory. While many are concerned about the rumored poor accommodations in the Olympic Village, or the Zika virus, Simone has tunnel vision.

Manuel says, "USA Swimming has really helped with the process of soaking our clothes in mosquito repellent, and we have mosquito bug spray and bed nets, so we're taking all the precautions but our main focus is to be ready to compete and work hard for our country."

Manuel will compete in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle events.

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