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Charlotte Area News

Olympian Cullen Jones Launches Kids Diversity Swim Meet

Tasnim Shamma

Charlotte swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones hopes to inspire young minority kids to embrace the sport with a swim meet just for them. This weekend, hundreds will compete in the inaugural Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational.

Cullen Jones says kids always ask him about his gold medals.

"So many children come up to me and say well how did you do what you've done?" Jones says. "And I think this is something that's been posed to a lot of African Americans that have done something that other people haven't done. And for me, I'd like to pave the way for another child to exactly what I've done."  

Credit Tasnim Shamma
Cullen Jones says he hopes his swim meet will grow to allow 1,000 swimmers to participate next year.

This weekend's Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational is a three-day, competitive 25-yard short course race that will be held at the Mecklenburg County Aquatics Center.

The event has attracted 500 of the fastest young swimmers in the region. Jones hopes some of them will be inspired to aim for Olympic trials.

He also hopes the meet will prompt people to act on a message he's been preaching for a long time.  

According to the CDC, African-American children drown nearly three-times as often as white children.

"A lot of people see it as, 'Oh well this doesn't happen in my family, I don't need to, you know, get my kids watersafe.' Yes you do. It's unfortunate that so many families have to go through tragedy before they understand that this is important."

Jones would know. He nearly drowned at an amusement park at the age of five, when he flipped upside down and was under water for thirty seconds. His mom didn't know how to swim, so he was resuscitated after lifeguards reached him. After that, his mom signed him up for swimming lessons and he participated in his first swim meet at the age of eight.

"My mom started crying when I told her I was going to have a meet 'cause she was like 'That's how you started!' I'm like, yeah it's going to go full circle, so hopefully we can inspire someone else," Jones says. 

Jones also says participants in his invitational can look forward to a guest appearance by fellow gold   medalist Ryan Lochte who, just this week, moved to Charlotte to train for the 2016 Olympics.