Rome Neal of Brooklyn finds himself bragging these days about his daughter — and with good reason. Lia Neal just became the second African American female swimmer to make it to the Olympics. She qualified for the relay team after finishing fourth in the 100 meter freestyle.
While many people say that so-called country club sports are too expensive for economically disadvantages used to be involved in, Rome Neal counters that assertion. He explained that today, many organizations can help the less fortunate with grants and scholarships. Lia received both a scholarship from Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics, which is a Manhattan nonprofit that encourages help through sports, and from her school Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive” Rome Neal said. “If you have raw talent, you can exceed so many barriers. But the sport itself, it can be costly.”
In addition to money, there is a time commitment that children have to be willing to stick to. Lia would get up at 5:00 in the morning and drive with her mother from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Then she would practice for two hours, go to school and work out for another two hours.
During a recent interview, Sui Neal said,
“There was a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of determination, for the child. She gave up a lot of the privileges other young people have. All of her time was either practicing swimming or dry land training or going to school. When she came home, she had homework to do. It seems like she always had to race against time to get everything done.”
Lia’s mother came Hong Kong with her family as a child and Rome’s family moved from Sumter, South Carolina to Harlem and then to Brooklyn. They met at New York City Community College and had three boys before finally having Lia on February 13th, 1995.
And now, their only daughter, and the second African American female swimmer to make it to the Olympics, is about to make Brooklyn proud.