Simone Manuel took to swimming like a duck takes to water. The Sugar Land, Texas native was introduced along with her two brothers to swimming because her parents wanted their children to be safe in the water. But by the time she was nine years old, she was pursuing swimming competitively. So adept to the sport that would take her to the 2016 Rio Olympics, she was nicknamed “Swimona.”
The speed swimmer remembers attending a swimming clinic as a girl and meeting her first Olympian. She says her passion to become an Olympic swimmer began the moment the swimmer placed her medal around Manuel’s neck. In pursuit of an Olympic dream, Manuel broke an American record in the 100-yard freestyle before graduating high school. While attending Stanford University in California, she achieved All-Academic recognition while winning numerous NCAA swimming titles. In 2017, she became the first woman to swim the 100-yard freestyle in under 46 seconds (45.56) and taking the NCAA title setting a new NCAA and American record.
But it was in Rio that Manuel stepped onto the medal platform and the world took notice.
“Coming into my first Olympics, I didn’t think I was going to be getting a gold medal individually,” Manuel said.
Her outlook changed as she competed in the preliminaries and the semifinals. Looking at her standings, she began to see herself on the medal platform. The 100-meter free-style final’s start sent the world’s best into the water at a furious pace. The then 20-year-old was in a battle with Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak. They reached the wall for a photo-finish end to the race.
Manuel became the first African American woman to win gold in swimming. She did it by setting a new Olympic record and in a tie with Oleksiak.
Following the race, Manuel said, “All I can say is all glory to God… I’m so blessed to have a gold medal…I’m just so blessed.”
Manuel won a total of four medals during the 2016 Olympics: another gold in the 4 x 100m medley relay, a silver in the individual 50m freestyle, and a silver in the 4 x 100m free relay.
Manuel hopes that in the future other African-American swimmers will join her in winning gold. “This medal is not just for me, it’s for some of the African-Americans that have come before me and have been mentors to me,” she said. “I hope that I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find love and drive to get to this point.”
Having a passion to lead out front has its challenges, but it can be rewarding.
In scripture, Joshua and Caleb were part of a team who were given the task of scouting out the “Promised Land.” After a 40-day exploration of Canaan, the explorers reported, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”
The report was frightening to those who heard it. Fear of “what if?” took hold, and the crowd balked. “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’”
Standing together, Caleb and Joshua refuted the crowd’s unbelief. “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.’”
Being the first takes courage, determination and hard work. For Simone Manuel, it took courage to push forward in a sport where she was often competing against swimmers who looked different from her.
Fear prevented the Israelites from moving forward into Canaan. Caleb and Joshua turned with the others and marched away from the Promised Land to wander for another 40 years. But God was faithful. The two men who did not fear, but believed, returned and were among the first to enter and claim the future God had promised.
So, what is it in your life that is preventing you from moving forward?
Despite your challenges and fears, turn your heart toward God. Seek Him first setting your eyes on where He says to go and embracing His promises. Claim your future!