Black Swimming History, by: Sabir Muhammad
Last weekend Jenny and I went to the 25th Annual Black History Invitational Swim Meet in Washington, D.C. We spent time with Olympian Maritza C. McClendon, her husband Chad, Olympian Alana Dillette and Olympic diving hopeful, Michael Wright. Also, we had the opportunity to unveil my new children’s book Born to Swim.
Growing up, the Black History Meet was my favorite meet because it was the perfect balance of good competition, inspiration and fun. When I was 16, I met Byron Davis for the first time. Last year Byron Davis, Maritza and I were recognized as honorees. This year we learned that in 1988 Chris Silva (1963-1990) was recognized as the meet’s first honoree. Chris was the first African-American to compete at the US Olympic Swimming Trials in 1984. When I was about 12 years old, Chris came to Atlanta, GA and spent time with my team, the City of Atlanta Dolphins. Chris was my first swimming role model. He was a champion with the spirit of a sprinter, always ready to race and never one to back down from a challenge. I remember racing him on a relay; there were four of us and he was solo. He won. Tragically, Chris died in a car accident shortly after we met.
Six years after meeting Chris, I matriculated to Stanford University on a swimming scholarship and it was during my freshman year that I met Chris’s mother, Dessie. Chris grew up a couple of miles away from Stanford in Menlo Park . During my time at Stanford, Dessie and I grew close. She would invite me over for dinner and share stories about Chris’s life. I spent so much time with Dessie that I ended up staying in Chris’s childhood room during my first summer at Stanford.
To this point, I hadn’t connected the dots on how important swimming, specifically Black swimming has been in my life. At the Black History Swim Meet I had the opportunity to hear about why Silva was invited to attend the meet in 1988; he was living proof that African-Americans could swim, despite the naysaying remarks of Al Campanis, infamous LA Dodger Coach. Chris was my first swimming role model and the first African-American to compete for UCLA. Byron Davis was the second African-American to compete for UCLA; he is my role model, today. Byron is a life coach and preacher who also officiated the wedding for me and my wife, Jenny. In my career, I was fortunate to stand upon the shoulders of great athletes like Byron Davis and Chris Silva. I’m proud to have contributed to this legacy.