In the past two years, Cullen Jones has leapt onto the aquatics scene in such a big way, setting a world record in the 50-meter freestyle at the World University Games and signing an unprecedented $2 million endorsement deal with Nike.
The 22-year-old is the first black swimmer to hold a world record. Currently on athletic scholarship at North Carolina State University, Jones is swim team captain and NCAA title winner. He hopes his recent victory and endorsement will bring more diversity to the swimming pool.
Raised in a gang-populated neighborhood, Jones began swimming at the age of eight. “I love being in water, and I love to swim. I started out slow, worked really hard with my coaches and got faster,” he has said. When his parents realized his talent, they made sacrifices to keep him swimming. Jones’ father died of lung cancer when Jones was only 16.
Today, Jones is working with USA Swimming, to promote the sport among minority kids. He wants to create a scholarship to support swim clubs and organizations promoting diversity. And he’s started the “Cullen Jones Diversity Swim Meet” in New York and North Carolina. He’d like to encourage minority teams to swim against bigger clubs and attributes his own improvement as an athlete to swimming against the best.
He’s also working with a production company on a documentary about the Flahery Dolphins, a swim team from Boston made up of minority kids. The documentary will follow some of the kids’ lives on the team as well as Jones’ own up to the 2008 Olympics, where he hopes to continue leaping ahead with gold medals.