TheGrio’s 100: Cullen Jones, Olympic swimmer dives in to teaching

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Cullen Jones nearly drowned at a water park when he was 5 years old. Less than 20 years after his near-death experience, Jones brought home a 2008 Olympic gold medal and world record for the 4×100 Freestyle Relay in Beijing Since then he has committed to saving other young lives by teaching the next generation of minority kids to swim.

Cullen Jones is making history … by saving lives through Make a Splash, a national child-focused anti-drowning initiative. When the world-class swimmer was a kid, an inner tube he was in flipped over during an amusement park ride; he passed out and had to be resuscitated. Jones’ mother signed him up for swim lessons shortly after the incident, but his childhood experience is markedly common among minority kids. Nearly 70 percent of African-American children and 58 percent of Hispanic children have little to no swimming ability, compared to 40 percent of white children. Fear is the main cause for this, according to the USA Swimming Foundation. Through Make a Splash, Cullen is meeting minority kids across the country, telling his story and showing them to how make waves.

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What’s next for Cullen?

The North-Carolina-based swimmer placed second in the 50 freestyle at 2010 U.S. Swimming Nationals, and is training to compete in the 2012 Olympics.

In his own words …

“I am the only African-American that was on the Olympic team [for swimming in 2008]. And that’s something that I think that will change,” said Jones in a 2010 interview with NPR. “Once someone paved the way, people tend to follow that route. And me being somewhat of a role model, you know, people can understand that … we can bring more and more African-Americans to swimming.”

A favorite quote …

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

A little-known fact …

Jones is the first African-American to bring home an Olympic gold medal in swimming, and only the second black man to compete in the sport on a U.S. Olympic team.

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