Olympian Cullen Jones: “Dare to be different”

Joel Akrie

Joel Akrie

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Cullen Jones spoke to Pittsburgh Obama 6th  grade students on Friday.

If you might not know who Cullen Jones is, he is a U.S. competitive swimmer and Olympic gold medalist who specializes in the freestyle sprint event. He is a part of the American team and he holds the world record in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay (long course). Cullen won a silver medal in the 4×100-meter in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Jones’s drive to Obama reminded him a great deal of his own hometown. He recounted the story of when at the age of 5 his father took he and his mother to a water park. When young Cullen asked his father what ride he was allowed to go on, his father picked the largest one. Cullen was a bit surprised at this because he could not swim. Jones’s mother didn’t want to ride but somehow they talked her into going along.  After instructing his son that he would go first, his mother last (with Cullen in between), he reminded his son, “Whatever you do don’t let go.” As fate would have it, a water park worker’s push was a little too ambitious and Cullen found himself at the bottom of the pool. His mother jumped in right after him to save him, which was a magnificent act in that she couldn’t swim either. Cullen reflected, “that day changed my life” After nearly drowning, Cullen’s mother signed him up for swimming classes the next day.

Soon, Cullen Jones didn’t just know how to swim. He was a winning swim events and eventually became a member of the Olympic team.

Jones inspired the crowd by telling them, “I was the only African American on the team,” but that fact didn’t impair his love of swimming. “Getting in the water is what I loved to do,” he said. “ I didn’t know it would turn into a career. “

Jones also reflected on his Olympic swimming highlights and made note of the night before the meets began in London, when Kobe, LeBron and more NBA players came to congratulate them and wish them well. Kobe was surprised that there was an African American on their team. The point was pretty clear: regardless of color, you can do anything you put your mind to with perseverance and effort.

A series of questions from the Obama students.

Q: As a child what did you picture yourself as doing for a career?

A: I pictured myself as a basketball player or a lawyer

Q: What made you pick this career?

A: I was very competitive at the age of 13-14

Q: Who would you say inspired you the most?

A: My parents and also athletes

Q: What is your biggest achievement in life?

A: My biggest achievement is going to London this year as an Olympian

Q: What would you say to young children who want to make this their career?

A: Anything is possible and dare to be different… go after what you want

Cullen Jones inspired his audience at Obama on Friday. His words made it clear that believing in yourself is essential to reaching your goals and finding your dreams. It is clear that he has a new group of swim fans at Obama.

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