Black People Can Swim
Black men make up some of the greatest sports men in the world but we fail to see their dominance in one triathlon sport – swimming!
The historical fear that black people have of the water is one of the longest running stereotypes in the community, however Swim Dem Crew exist to challenge that, and we met with ½ of the Crew, Nathaniel Cole, to dive right in..
How it all started
“I’ve been swimming my whole life, my Mum didn’t want that stereotype ‘black people can’t swim’ to be true for me. I stopped swimming and got a place in the London Marathon, and my training plan included one day of swimming but it was really boring swimming up and down by myself. Peigh started swimming too because he got injured running the half Marathon. We were swimming in London fields on different days and we were posting pictures on Instagram, and we thought why don’t we just swim together? and we become really good friends, As we were putting more and more pictures online, people were like- can we swim with you guys, so we decided to create a community around swimming and tour London’s different pools. “
Fears of the water
“Body image, trust as a new swimmer and also just outright fear of drowning. You’ll see people swimming in the deep end because their friends have, and they can’t swim. Why would you put yourself in danger? You have to let go of your ego. With swimming you really start at zero, but people that excel faster in lessons is because they put in work. When Peigh was injured, he swam everyday for 6 months without fail.”
“Can we swim with you guys?”
“People can look at Swim Dem Crew and see - Oh this is how swimming can also look. The swimming world is very elite and athlete driven, but at Swim Dem we are just normal people with normal bodies. If you look up black people that swim, you’ll find Swim Dem. People can see themselves in something. When we did our ‘Learn to Swim’ project with Swim Challenge with Ayo Akinwolere and Harley Hicks, where we taught young people how to swim, after they learnt how to swim, they were able to find new jobs and do stuff they wouldn’t usually do. It gave them confidence.”
“A swimmer called Kai couldn’t swim a year and a half ago, he was in the baby pool with water up to his knees. Through swimming with us and Harley, he’s learnt how to swim really well and he’s become a swimming teacher. He’s also a carer for his family, on Friday nights he teaches others to swim. For me, just to have been part of Kai’s life in a positive way is a personal highlight. Also the Android advert and how big it was, I’ve done talks at marketing events and at the CAA, which was really well received. We also did the Dart 10K, which is the best open water race in England. We took some of the swimmers from Swim Dem down, and it was such a nice weekend.“
“Ohh, this is how swimming can also look”
“Seeing more of us (Swim Dem), do more interactive stuff. We sell hats, so bring out more products. We’ve reached out to people all over the world to ask them to review pools for us, so we’ll have a whole collection of where everyone swims in the world, so as part of our community, we can suggest like if you’re in France, swim here. If you’re going to Grenada, you can swim here. Ultimately, we want to get more people in the water.”
From first hand experience, swimming with Swim Dem Crew is everything Nathaniel has expressed and more. The non-judgemental sense of community we felt on our first day was so special. Now having acquired their own Swimming lane at London's Aquatics Centre and a published article written by them in The Guardian, Nathaniel and Peigh are building a precedence for swimming, providing a safe place for individuals to challenge themselves in the water, and ultimately welcoming individuals to join a diverse community of people who are unafraid to swim to the deep end.
In line with International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day this month, the woman Nathaniel is inspired by is Nimko Ali. “She tackles FGM issues in society and her homeland of Somalia. She's unapologetic in her approach to call people out for what they are and is a person that does plenty more good for the world than bad.” Read more about the blood bank she is developing to reduce maternal mortality here
Visit the Swim Dem Crew website for more information. Socialise with them too - Instagram: @swimdemcrew | Twitter: @swimdemcrew | Facebook: Swim Dem Crew
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