Ali Terry
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Relationship Status:
Married
Aquatic Interest:
Competitive Swimming, Lifeguarding, Swim Lessons, Surfing
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Alison Terry

By Erin Greene



Alison Terry has been met with a series of closed doors in her life. But she just keeps opening them.

Like many athletes, Terry began swimming at an early age. Once dipped in chlorine, her sense of direction always pointed her to the pool. There, with hard work and determination, Terry joined the elite ranks of swimmers as a member of the 1999 World University Games Team.

But her road to the summit was long and bumpy. Born into a bi-racial family in a San Diego inner-city neighborhood, the opportunities to swim competitively were limited. With surrounding pools closed during the year, swimming year-round was a virtual impossibility.

“After my team folded, that was it,” Terry said. “There was no other competitive program. There was one other kid who continued swimming. We carpooled together to a larger program. I was lucky I was afforded the opportunity to keep swimming. Most of the other kids had to quit.”

While the move yielded successful results in the pool, Terry found herself questioning who she was.

“When you have always been around people who look like you and think like you, you tend to have only that lens,” Terry said. “I think I’ve been in a unique position to see the world through different lenses because I’ve had to. Not only because I am a person of color, but because I grew up in a bi-racial family. So I could see both perspectives.”

After graduating from high school in 1991, Terry and her coach decided she would postpone college for a year to vie for a spot on the Olympic Team at the 1992 Olympic Trials. But Terry suddenly found herself sidelined after her age-group coach unexpectedly left the team. While she switched clubs to begin training with Mission Viejo, the coaching change proved to be too monumental.

“I felt kind of lost,” Terry said. “I was not really with the right frame of mind. Even though I moved to Mission Viejo, I couldn’t let go of my training in San Diego.”

Not ready to give up on her dreams, Terry accepted a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee following the 1992 Olympic Team Trials. However, the stark differences in coaching buried on top of a disappointing year created a recipe for disaster. Following her freshman year, Terry returned to her native California where she hung up her suit and goggles for the next five years.

“I got in a bad relationship,” Terry said. “I didn’t really do anything. I kind of went in and out of school. I grew up and did a lot of soul searching.”

But the soul searching never took place far from the water. Born a beach baby, Terry frequented the ocean to surf and lifeguard. Eventually, she found her way back to the pool while coaching a junior kayak team.

“A coach I was working with was an Olympian,” Terry said. “He brought me to a Masters club that he said had a great vibe. I quit, but I went back again and met Allen [now Terry’s husband] who said he thought I was talented and heard I had aspirations of making the Olympic Team.”

Two years prior to the 2000 Olympics,Terry decided she could not longer ignore her calling and resumed training.

In 1999, Terry captured her first international medal in the women’s 400m freestyle relay when she competed at the World University Games. The win re-ignited her Olympic dreams and fueled her desire to continue training. If Terry made the 2000 Olympic Team, she would make history as the first female swimmer of African-American descent to represent America at the Games.

Leading up to the Trials, Terry engaged the media in as much publicity as possible to raise awareness about the lack of opportunities for African-American communities.

“I had a really bad 100 freestyle,” Terry said. “I had a better 50, but I still missed finals by .02 seconds. That still hurts. I love the sport and believe I have not swum as fast as I can swim. I hate that feeling. I would get back into the sport in a heartbeat.”

While Terry fell short of her Olympic dream, she continued her crusade to increase diversity throughout the swimming community. Terry began implementing swimming programs in San Diego’s inner-city schools, educating elementary school students on beach safety and assisting in lesson programs.

In 2000, with encouragement from Terry, along with her husband and mother, San Diego officials agreed to keep inner-city pools open year-round for the first time. In 2005, Terry was honored alongside sports heroes Muhammad Ali and Magic Johnson, in addition to Olympian Larsen Jensen, at the Aquatic Foundation of Metropolitan Los Angeles.

“It was kind of surreal,” Terry said. “I don’t think of myself in that league. It was pretty amazing. I was more amazed that Magic remembered my name when he gave the speech. It was just quite an honor.”

Terry, who also works with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the Jackie Robinson YMCA and Women’s Sports Foundation, shared the night with her husband, father and mother, to whom she credits her drive and accomplishments.

Although Terry did not become the first African-American swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team, she continued to break race barriers in the swimming world. At the 2006 U.S. Aquatic Sports Convention, Terry became the first African-American elected to the USA Swimming Board of Directors.

“I think it makes a statement about how USA Swimming is changing and becoming more diverse,” said Athlete’s Executive Vice President Trent Staley.” It’s pretty amazing that the first African-American is also an athlete and a female. Alison definitely has a lot stacked against her. The election is a tribute to her personality and work ethic.

“She is super outgoing. She is constantly thinking about swimming – what is going to make it a better sport and the USA a better swimming country. She is aggressive and very passionate about the sport, especially when it comes to making the sport more diverse.”

Now 33, Terry expanded her learn-to-swim prerogative to Ankara, Turkey through a program initiated by the U.S. embassy. There, Lone Star Aquatic coach Lee Willing and Terry traversed 19 pools, instructing young children on their swimming technique. The pair also worked with coaches on developing comprehensive plans for swimming instruction.

Her work in the U.S. is far from over. Terry hopes to see everyone have the opportunity to save their own life and for kids to have as much opportunity to swim as they do to play football.

But Terry knows better than anyone that even if she can open this door for youth, it’s up to them to walk through.

“You have to be tough,” Terry said. “You have to keep trying. It is up to you to either open the door or stand their wishing it would open.”

* * *

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of Splash Magazine and is reprinted here with permission
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Aquatics Supervisor (Coney Island YMCA)

Posted on February 28, 2017 at 1:06pm 0 Comments

SALARY:  $12.76 P/H – $15.95 P/H

The YMCA of Greater New York reaches half a million New Yorkers through programs that focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. The Coney Island YMCA is seeking a qualified individual who will be responsible for maintaining safe conditions in and around the swim area at the Branch.  The incumbent will promote a safe and positive atmosphere, in accordance with YMCA aquatics policies and…

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New job site

Posted on April 20, 2011 at 12:08pm 1 Comment

Register today at www.aquaticjobsnetwork.com

Comment Wall (11 comments)

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At 9:02pm on May 11, 2011, Arthur Andrew Lopez said…
This would be great.  My page is a mess and really needs some help.......way out of date.  Thanks for the kind offer  we need to catch up sometime  just had a diversity meeting  REALLY miss u
At 9:35am on May 6, 2011, Arthur Andrew Lopez said…
maybe we can skype or somthing.....really interested in getting your update
At 11:22am on May 5, 2011, Arthur Andrew Lopez said…

Hey!   Hows the baby and the Mommy thing   :)  

miss you....hope all is well!

At 6:06pm on April 23, 2011, Faheemah said…
Hi Ali, Great story in your "about me" section. I appreciate your persistence and mission :) Keep up the great work!
At 1:08pm on December 17, 2010, Jayson Jackson said…

Happy Birthday!

At 12:39pm on October 8, 2009, Jennifer Galvin said…
The award winning documentary FREE SWIM (www.FreeSwimMovie.com) is coming to LA!

Come to see FREE SWIM
Sunday, October 18
10AM
Davidson/Valentini Theatre, 1125 N McCadden Place, Los Angeles, CA 90038
For more about the film festival, visit www.lafemme.org

It would mean a lot to have DAP members there and please do spread the word!
At 3:07am on July 17, 2008, Kenneth B. Ellerbe said…
Hi Ali,

My first response, without thinking would be, "great story!" but after thinking about what I've read I'd rather say, "great reality." It's always good to read about real people and their successes. Keep up the good work.

Kenneth
At 10:18am on July 4, 2008, Dennis Burroughs said…
Ali, I want to commend you on all of your efforts towards this goal of ours. I am trying to get children of color to learn how to sail. It is a good idea for them to know how to swim before they get in that Optimist dinghy. I will be calling on you for advice, OK?
At 1:39am on July 4, 2008, Darrick Linton said…
Hi Alison,
Viewed your site and loved it. Welcome and Thanx for the support with your kind words. You just don't know how blessed you are until you read somebody else's story. Continue doing what you do, and I'm sure God will continue to Bless You the way he has. Keep in touch and I will reciprocate the same. Darrick...aka dswimmerman
At 2:29am on June 14, 2008, Sunny Kalani said…
Hey there Ali, I work for the City of Chula Vista.
 
 
 

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