DURHAM (WTVD) --Simone Manuel, the 20-year-old Olympic medal winner, has become a national sensation. Searching for her online generates a tsunami of tweets, memes, and poets inspired by the Texas swimmer's historic gold medal win.
Manuel won gold in the women's 100m freestyle and the women's 4x100m medley relay as well as two silver medals. She became the first African-American woman to claim an individual gold medal in the pool after her freestyle win.
She has younger competitive swimmers like 15-year-old T'lez Foulkes fired up about their future and the future of the sport.
"I hope she inspired other kids to swim," he told ABC11 Sunday after she medaled again on Saturday. "It's a great thing and it keeps you in shape."
Foulkes knows what he's talking about. His parents proudly showed dozens of trophies, ribbons, and other awards he's won in elite competition over the years.
He started swimming at the age of 5 and then joined the North Carolina Aquatic Club in Chapel Hill which practices at UNC. He said that's how he started up swimming competitively.
His parents are very proud of their talented athlete. His father is a swimming coach who, like his mom and many others, is thrilled about Manuel's victory.
"As though she was my own kid! And the idea that she didn't even know that she had won, was like pure joy," said Arnica Foulkes. "When she realized it, that made it even more exciting!"
Her win has T'lez excited about his future.
"I believe I can do that some day!" he predicted. "In 2020 or 2024, along in my future, I can do that!"
That confidence resonates when you consider this: Durham, where he lives, had separate "white" and "colored" public pools until city leaders desegregated them in 1963.
Now, if he follows Simone's example, makes the Olympics and wins gold in an individual event, he could also make history as the first African-American man to swim for the win at that level.
That's still a few years away, though. In the meantime, he's setting an example for much younger swimmers watching him compete now with his wins, as well as conversations when he sees those young athletes at meets.
Arnica has some advice for people who may have concerns about putting themselves or their children in a pool or swimming club.
"Even if you're not being competitive, just know that swimming is important and everyone should do it," she told ABC11.
Safety experts say learning to swim now can save your life someday.
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