In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week, Cullen Jones, the first African- American male to hold a world record in the sport of swimming shares his story of how he became involved in the sport.
Many people always ask me: How did you get into swimming? The answer is simple, but not one that people are ready to hear.
At the age of five, I almost drowned. It was an ordinary weekend with my parents. My father, who was 6'4", decided he wanted to get on the biggest ride in the amusement park. Since he was my hero, I followed him and wanted to get on the ride. My mother protested, but we convinced her that it would be OK.
We finally got to the top of the biggest water ride in the park and my dad makes me promise to hold on to the inner tube. I agreed and watched as he went down first. The plan was he would go first and wait for me after I came down the slide.
I pushed off and went down the ride screaming the entire way down. When I hit the pool of water at the bottom, I flipped over and because my dad made me promise, I held on to the inner tube, underwater. The lifeguard dove in, followed by my father. They pulled me out of the water and I was unresponsive. After performing CPR, I woke up and, much like a skit being played on stage, I asked, “What’s the next ride we are getting on!”
Little did my parents know, that I would later become an Olympic gold medalist.
What I would like people to take away from my story is that anything is possible. Never count out any avenue in life. My near-drowning mishap could have deterred me from ever touching the water again. But thanks to the backing of my parents, I was able to overcome my fears and later become an Olympic gold medalist.
One of the biggest lessons I learned throughout my career is that setting goals is the key to success. Whether it is in the classroom, boardroom or standing behind a starting block at the 2008 Olympics.
Once a goal is achieved it is not time to settle. This is the time to reassess and make another goal; one that is a bit more challenging and more fulfilling.
The hardest trial that I have ever had to deal with, outside of the pool, was the death of my father. At 16, it is a time where a boy is learning to be a man. I was blessed with a father that instilled many life lessons that I still carry true to this very day. I also had a mother that was no-nonsense.
The hardest trial in the pool was when I was in college. I hurt my shoulder lifting before a big meet against our rival. My team counted on me to be at my best. I had two choices, not swim and let my team down, or grit my teeth and swim through the pain. That might have been the hardest meet I have ever swam, but we won!
Something that I don’t always get to tell in my story is that day in the amusement park, I was fully supervised. So many times people think that because there are lifeguards on duty that they are completely safe from accidents. I myself was a lifeguard. When you are watching over 500 children with your coworkers, it is not an easy task.
There is a simple solution and that’s swim lessons. Parents need to make it a priority for their children to learn to swim. Any body of water can be dangerous without proper instruction. Swimming is a fun activity, learn to swim.