On Friday November 6th, I had the honor of sitting down and talking with one of the open water's swimming royalty, Karen Rogers
. If you don't know who she is, then you should try and find out. Karen is one of the most accomplished open water swimmers in the world. She's made swims like the length of Lake Tahoe - a distance of 21 miles, swam from the Golden Gate Bridge to the San Mateo Bridge, a distance of 18 miles, under 9 hrs and against the current for half of that time. She's taken on the Molokai to Oahu swim a distance of 26 miles and only 15 people have accomplished. Yup, to say Karen Rogers is the real deal is an understatement.
So here we were on a drizzly Friday morning talking about my swim goals for the coming year and years. I expressed my desire to inspire low income African American and Latino youth to swim. How I wanted to not just have them know water safety and survival swimming but - hopefully - go on to try and be competitive swimmers, use swimming as a means for furthering their education, obtain an exciting job and more.
Karen thought about all that I wanted to do and nodded. Then she offered up a very profound insight that I'm surprised i never gave much thought to. In essence she said, 'Naji, Michale Phelps, Dara Torres, Jason Lezak, Mark Spitz, they are and were great swimmers. But how do we know they're the best when the playing field was never level. We don;t know if some Latino boy from The Mission neighborhood might have beaten them. We don't know if some African American girl would hold as many records as Torres. And do you know why? Because there is no way of knowing if these folks are the best if the field wasn't level."
It reminds me of Major League baseball. For far too long, Major league owners excluded Blacks from playing in the big leagues. For years players like Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige toiled away playing in run down ballparks, riding in broken down buses, and being kept out of better hotels - often sleeping in those same broken down buses - because of the color of their skin. One wonders what sort of impact Jackie Robinson and others would have had had they been allowed to play in their early 20s rather than later in their careers?
Now with the push by USA swimming to start trying to recruit more diversity in swimming one wonders how much more difficult equaling the playing field might be.
That's why I decided in that meeting with Karen to map out four swim goals for the next four years. My intention is to bring about the need for kids of color to get involved in swimming as a life skill and a sport. To think about being competitive in it and succeeding and then passing on the torch to others that might blaze a new trail. So, in the next four years I plan on bringing the spotlight of open water swimming to the fore for kids of color and also raising money for the Josh Project
an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I thank Wanda Jean Butts for taking such a tragic time in her life and turning it into an amazing positive experience.
So without further adieu here are my swim goals for 2010-2013!
- 18.5k (10 miles) Width of Lake Tahoe
– 22K (12 Miles) The Strait of Gibraltar
– 29K (17.4 Miles) The Cook Strait
– 33.7K (21 Miles) The Catalina Channel