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Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.

From The New York Times:

Her Parents Thought Swimming Lessons Were a Good Idea

Krystal Lara is one of very few Latinas in her class at Stuyvesant High School, and in the pool. She’s backstroking her way toward the Olympics.…

Former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka

Good video about former Yale swimmer Siphiwe Baleka


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."

She's right.

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!

2010 (August) - 18.5k (10 miles) Width of Lake Tahoe

2011 September – 22K (12 Miles) The Strait of Gibraltar

2012 April – 29K (17.4 Miles) The Cook Strait

2013 September
– 33.7K (21 Miles) The Catalina Channel

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Replies to This Discussion

Great post Naji!
You are an inspiration to all......old, young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic.....the list goes on!
I have an understanding somewhat in my arena of swimming: I am 65, a grandmother, and a woman of size. I show up for US Master's pool competition and get stared at......until I go off the block and win a 200 IM. I have felt much discrimination about my size in a swimming suit, yet, my size keeps me warm in the 52 degress Alcatraz/San Francisco crossing and in the glacier waters of 38 degrees in Alaska .....all without a wet suit.
When I swim a 1,500 backstroke with a bottle of gatorade on my forehead without dropping it......people may laugh at this old, large grannie, yet I do it for Drowning Prevention all over the world.
In Arizona, we do have many of our Hispanic and Black children in the pools.....but not enough for sure. Next summer I will be getting the homeless children of all colors and ages into some swimming.
Thank you for all you do and I am off to another Sea of Cortez, Mexico....very warm water 4 mile swim in a couple of weeks. Enjoy and Elbows Up!
Grannie Gator Head......Kathleen Lawrence
Kathleen you are an inspiration also! One day you and I will swim from AT&T park back to Aquatic Park (one of my favorite distance swims). It never dawned on me to think of homeless children as potential drowning victims, but your absolutely right to get them into the water! I work at a soup kitchen and should offer to teach our guests how to swim and be welcoming to go further for those who want to learn more about swimming long distances.

I'm sure you put the naysayers to rest when you show your skills in the pool and open water. People never thought Lynne Cox - Without question one of the legends in open water swimming - could make some of her swims because of her physique and look what she's accomplished! Keep on keeping on Kathleen your my hero!...Naji
Wow Naji: - That is very informative. Karen Rogers is incredible - and she is right in her comparison - I agree with her and you. BUT together we are going to change those odds and those statistics. We are going to grow our olympic swimmers in organizations like The Josh Project - all over the world. We've only just begun...........Keep on swimming........Peace & love always.......wanda b


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