Growing up, Simone Manuel was used to being the only Black swimmer on the pool deck. “There was a feeling of loneliness,” she says. When she beat the field in the 100-m freestyle at the 2016 Olympics, she became the first Black American swimmer to earn an individual Olympic gold. After making history, her swimming journey became challenging in a different way. She didn’t make the team in that event in 2021 because of overtraining syndrome, after repetitive, intense training brought her body to its breaking point. She was forced to reduce nearly all physical activity to recover.

That experience put her trailblazing role into perspective. In 2023, she created the Simone Manuel Foundation to increase water safety as well as diversity in swimming. “We just weren’t given the access,” she says of the dearth of Black swimmers. “Segregation created this historical implication of us feeling like we weren’t invited into that space.” Through the foundation, she sponsors clinics in communities where swimming isn’t encouraged, and eventually hopes to make learning to swim a requirement for high school graduation.

Courtesy of Sydne Griffith

It’s just her latest endeavor to promote sports in underrepresented groups, including women; with Olympians Sue Bird, Chloe Kim, and Alex Morgan, she created togethxr, a company bringing new attention to women’s sports. Their first project—an apparel line that reads “Everyone Watches Women’s Sports”—won a cult following. “I haven’t always felt celebrated,” Manuel says. “[Togethxr] is giving people access to the accomplishments women are achieving and celebrating all of it.”

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