OMAHA, Nebraska — USA Swimming has plenty of star power, but there is one thing the team admits is missing: diversity. To combat that, the governing body of the sport created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council in September 2020. The sport hopes to encourage more diversity in the sport by finding a fitting new home for the star of the Olympic Trials in Omaha: the pool itself.
The racial divide when it comes to swimming in the United States is deep. 70% of Black Americans don’t know how to swim. In households where neither parent knows how to swim, only 19% of their children will learn – perpetuating the problem.
These are statistics that Maritza McClendon knows all too well. She claimed a silver medal in 2004 becoming the first African American woman to make a us Olympic swim team. “When you think about USA swimming, we have over 300,000 members and less than 2% are African American,” says McClendon.
Erika Binger is the founder and executive director of V3 sports in Minnesota, an organization that aims to bring equity through health and wellness. “If you don’t have access which our community doesn’t how are you ever going to learn to save your life or others by swimming?,” Binger asks.
While the olympians are on an unprecedented journey to Japan, Binger and her V3 sports team put together a lofty goal to raise funds and purchased the US Olympic trials competition pool. “Everybody was getting goosebumps and tears in their eyes thinking this is going to come back home with us,” says Binger.
McClendon says bringing the pool to a low income, minority north Minneapolis neighborhood is about more than just the sport – it will be life-changing. “There’s opportunities to be a lifeguard to go to college for free and get a scholarship and then coaching,” says McClendon, “There’s a lot of opportunities that swim can bring to a family.”