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Alia Atkinson is Determined to Smash Stereotypes

Alia Atkinson is Determined to Smash Stereotypes

Posted by Shanelle Weir on January 30, 2015

Alia Atkinson believes her world title won at the Short Course Swimming Championship is evidence enough that Black people can swim as fast as their white counterparts.

The 26-year-old Jamaican swimmer, who attended a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, said the popular view that physical structure and muscle density has held back people of Black ethnicity in the pool is a myth.

“I proved those false. A lot of people said with my body type I wouldn’t be effective in the water, because my lower half is bigger than my top half. There is the factor that a lot of people still believe Black people can’t swim and their body isn’t made for swimming, but there has been no evidence to prove that,” she said.

“You have some big, muscular European men that are bigger than any black man I’ve seen. So the physique, the density of the muscles isn’t really a factor. It’s how efficient you are in water, given the body that you have. The fact of the matter is that swimming is for anybody, no matter the physique,” added the swimmer, based in the United States.

Atkinson’s 100-meter women’s breaststroke win in Qatar last December came in a time of 1:02.36 seconds and tied the world record of Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte, which the teenager set in 2013.

In the process Atkinson became the first Black woman to hold a world swimming title. Even before then, she had the privilege of being one of an esteemed few Black spokespersons in the sport, a position she uses to inspire others of similar skin hue.

United States’ Cullen Jones, a gold medallist in the freestyle 100m relay in 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, has also been making a push for encouraging more Blacks to learn to swim.

The US, a country with a diverse ethnic composition, is said to have close to 3,500 accidental drownings every year.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatal drowning rate of African-American children aged five to 14 is three times that of white children.

A 2010 study sponsored by USA Swimming uncovered stark statistics. A frightening 69 percent of African-American children surveyed said they had no or low ability to swim. A further 12 percent said they could swim, but were self-taught.

The study found 58 percent of Hispanic children had no or low swimming ability. For white children, the figure was 42 percent.

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