After nearly drowning at age five, you have to give Cullen Jones credit for being willing to enter a pool again. But he’s done much more than stick a toe in. He now dives off the blocks and races the likes of Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and the other top swimmers from across the globe. In fact, he won Olympic gold as part of the 4 x 100 meter team in Beijing!
Now, Jones is on a quest to help kids of all backgrounds feel comfortable near and in the water as part of USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, which is sponsored by Phillips 66. So how did he get the guts to jump back in and how does he feel about the London Games (just 63 days away!)? We asked, he spilled.
What do you think made you confident enough to hop back in the pool?
Definitely my mom’s conviction. I was very nervous to go back, but she made me go to lessons because she didn’t want me to be afraid of water. Twenty years later, I became an Olympic medalist. At age 8, I swam in my first swim meet, and at age 10, I told my dad that it was my passion. That crushed him, though, since he was such a big fan of basketball!
Why do you think there is such a disparity between the swimming abilities of kids with different backgrounds? [Editor's note: Seventy percent of African American kids, 60 percent of Hispanic kids and 42 percent of Caucasian kids don't know how to swim, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.]
Fear, parental backing, physical appearance…Or the kids had a bad experience in the water, or parents did and project that on their kids.
What will kids learn by participating in Make a Splash?
They’ll learn a life skill—how to be safe around the water. Kids really gravitate to the water, and we want to give them the tools to be safe.
For inside scoop about the Olympics and who inspires this role model, click below.
What is different about your training leading up to London compared to your training for Beijing?
I was a rookie on the team back then and felt like a deer in the headlights taking part in something so massive. Since then, I’ve learned how to race fast and smart. I’ve never been so fast and so strong.
What other swimmers do you expect to make a splash at the Olympics?
There will be new and old names. Michael Phelps is coming back, and Brendan Hansen, who took some time off, is stronger than I’ve ever seen him. Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer are also ones to watch.
What lessons do you hope kids learn by watching you compete?
I hope they see that I’m having fun in a sport that didn’t start off too well for me. Thanks to those around me, I made it the sport for me and I love it.
So who inspires you?
Growing up, Michael Jordan was the epitome of what an athlete was. He showed poise and confidence whether he scored 55 points or lost a game.
Now tell us: What athletes fire you up and motivate you to give it your all?