As a teen, Manuel Gonzalez worked as a lifeguard, and the job helped pay for a private high school, and a college education at Princeton University. That work experience, and the support he received  from city of San Diego aquatics leaders, has led to a lifelong commitment to the industry.

Today he is aquatic supervisor III for the city of Chula Vista, Calif., and he has more than given back to the industry, which has given him so much.

Gonzalez, 33, initially intended to pursue a career as an attorney. He got a taste of what that's like in high school. When his school didn’t have a water polo team, his parents sued the California Interscholastic Federation and the California Board of Education to allow him to participate on another school’s team. He was a college senior when the case was settled, but the case has led to changes that allow more opportunities for today’s athletes.

It was after graduating from Princeton with a history degree that he decided to stay in Southern California to work for the aquatics agency that had done so much to further his education. He has never looked back.

In 2006 he was a leading force in resurrecting the San Diego County Aquatics Council, fostering communication among industry professionals. The SDCAC is one reason California has a strong network of aquatics leaders. It was honored by the National Drowning Prevention Alliance in 2010, and Gonzalez believes the model could be emulated in other states.

“Knowledge needs to be accessible to everyone,” Gonzalez says.

Today he is focused on drowning prevention and fiscal sustainability. Gonzalez has seen his agency’s funding nearly cut in half, but he’s been able to maintain programs and increase participation with a number of “out of the box” ideas, many focusing on low-income residents. One such idea is Read to Swim, which he started in partnership with USA Swimming. 

Looking ahead, Gonzalez says he hopes “to be in a position to focus on bigger picture issues.” Whatever happens, given his accomplishments thus far, he is sure to continue proving himself a leader.