At first glance, Simone Manuel may seem like your normal 19-year-old college sophomore. She uses Snapchat, struggles with pastry temptations at Panera, and likes to hang out with friends and make music videos.
Look a little closer, and you will see a strong-willed, highly athletic young woman who wants to inspire others in life and in sports. You will see a swimmer who has already earned her place in history … and she hasn’t yet made her Olympic debut!
A Natural-born Swimmer
Manuel was born in Sugar Land, Tex., on August 2, 1996, the youngest of three. Simone's parents made sure that all of their children knew how to swim at early ages for their own safety.
Her mother, Sharon, has recalled that on the first day of swimming lessons, five-year-old Simone could already swim across the pool; she seemed to be a natural in the water.
Her brothers – Chris and Ryan, three and five years her senior – went on to be competitive in basketball. But Simone, who’s now 5’11”, said she did not like getting targeted as the tall one on the team; she also hates to sweat. So she found her competitive niche in the pool. At 11, she joined the First Colony Swim Team.
Making a Splash at Stanford
In 2014, Simone started at Stanford University, where she currently swims under the direction of the Cardinal’s Coach Greg Meehan.
Here, Manuel became the 2015 NCAA champion in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle. She currently holds the American record for the 100-yard freestyle.
Still a sophomore, Simone remains undeclared, contemplating a major in communications or science, technology, and society. Her GPA demonstrates that her motivation and drive do not end on dry land.
This was an epic moment in recent swim history. First time ever in NCAA Championships in March 2015 that three African American Collegiate female swimmers did a 1,2,3 finish in the 100 Free!!! #browngirlsswim #browngirlsswimtoo #tbt #ncaa #ncaaswimming #everyonecanswim #diversityswimming #nataliehinds #lianeal #simonemanuel @swimone413 @_nhinds @lia_neal #blackgirlsrock #blackgirlsswim
Though she’s still only 19, Manuel has broken so many National Age Group records that it can be difficult to keep track of them! She’s earned many medals, but one gold in particular seems to have marked a turning point in American swimming.
In 2015, Simone Manuel stood on a podium composed of all black women. It was an historic first for a Division I NCAA swimming championship and, it’s believed, for any meet of this stature.
In the women’s 100-yard freestyle, three African-Americans took medals: Manuel was first; second was Lia Neal, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and her Stanford teammate; and Natalie Hinds was third.
A Fearless Competitor
Out of the water, Simone is known for her smiles; as soon as she gets on the block, she is all business. This versatility seems to help her maintain balance in and out of the water.
Fellow swimmer Missy Franklin has called Simone “fearless” and noted that she is one of the toughest competitors that she has ever raced. In 2014, Simone even beat Missy at a swim meet!
Manuel credits her competitive drive mostly to her two older brothers. Simone talks to them frequently, often seeking their advice or encouragement.
I'm happy and honored to be part of a great project coming from Marvel in collaboration with ESPN: the IMPACT25 female athlete honorees 2015. Here's my cover featuring Simone Manuel, African-American swimmer. (art and color by me) Enjoy!! http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/14272243/espnw-marvel-create-super-impact25-heroes #Laurabraga #marvel #marvelcomics #ESPN #simoneManuel
The Road to Rio
Simone has said that she hopes her career will help bring more diversity to the sport of swimming and inspire younger swimmers to reach their wildest dreams.
She also hopes that her performances help people to realize that everyone should learn swimming, even if they are not competing, as it is a life-saving skill.
Simone has admitted that, up until recently, she had never seen the Olympics in her future. Today, she is clearly one to watch at June’s Olympic swimming trials. If her skill, speed, and determination continue, we will be watching her in Rio this August.