Seventeen year-old Brooklyn native Lia Neal qualified for the Olympic swim team after coming in fourth in the 100-meter freestyle race a week ago Saturday, becoming the second African-American woman in history to attain that honor.
Neal explained how going to the Olympics is a dream come true.
“I always wanted to go to the Olympics. I think every kid wants to go to the Olympics but it always seemed like a dream and it didn’t really seem like it was that possible until recently” Neal said.
Lia will be a senior this coming September at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She is scheduled to compete in the 400 meter relay in this summer’s Olympic games in London.
“Swimming has definitely been a huge part of my life” Neal said. “I’ve been in it for 11 years now and my family has always been really supportive, no matter what I did.”
Neal has participated in competitive swimming as a member of the Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics swim team since she was eight years old, and has been awarded a “Swim for the Future” scholarship.
Lia was raised in Fort Greene by her parents Jerome and Sui Neal, along with her three older siblings. Jerome is African-American, and her mother Sui is Chinese-American. Lia is conversant in English, Cantonese, and has studied Mandarin for the past six years.
“I feel Lia is blessed” commented Lia’s mother. “I was hoping she would have gotten to the top four. She seemed kind of nervous, but she wanted it bad. She wanted to do well and earn her spot. It came true. I just thank God for it.”
The first black woman to compete on the US Olympic swim team was Maritza Correia, who won a silver medal at the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.