By: Zach Draves
Throughout the history of USA swimming, the names of Mark Spitz, Amy Van Dyken, Katie Ledecky, and Michael Phelps ring familiar.
A tradition-rich in success on the world stage.
However, there hasn’t been much progress on the representation front.
That is about to change with the formation of a new Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion council.
I had a chance to interview former swimmer, advocate, and council member Candace Cooper on her career, her thoughts on the significance of this new measure, and how USA swimming intends to make progress.
Tell me about your career in swimming and what you are currently involved in
I started competitive swimming when I was 8 years old. I swam I was the first African American female to swim at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was a four-year letterman. I qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2012 & 2016. I retired after the 2016 Trials. My family (immediate and extended) & I started the National Black Heritage Championship Swim held in Cary, NC. We’ve been hosting the meet for 17 years (would be 18 but COVID). My mother is the meet director and I’ve been coaching/assisting her since the meet’s inception. I am currently on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI ) Council for USA Swimming.
What lead to the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion committee for USA Swimming?
There’s a clear need in our sport for diversity. African Americans make up barely 1% of the entire body of competitive swimmers. We need to change that. The purpose is to bring together a group of diverse individuals to consult, deliberate and provide strategic DEI feedback to USA Swimming. From my end, my goal is to figure out tangible solutions to create a more culturally & socially diverse sport.
How did you get involved?
I was nominated by USA Swimming after speaking with some of the USA Swimming staff. After USA Swimming’s response to “Black Lives Matter” fell flat, I felt that it was important to speak up about the issues that we’ve experienced as Black swimmers, coaches, parents, and officials in this sport. I wrote an email to the CEO and just expressed that my goal is not to look down on USA Swimming but help give them a viewpoint from someone who lived it as a competitor and sees the disparities as a coach and advocate of the sport.
What are the goals of the committee?
We’re going to ensure that USA Swimming follows their mission of DEI which reads,
“In the context of swimming, diversity is the invitation to our sport, inclusion is making sure our sport is welcoming, and equity is ensuring all members have what they need to be successful.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical to achieving the mission of USA Swimming and is an important and necessary step to achieving our four end goals, the “Ends:”
Achievement of sustained competitive success at the Olympic Games
Members have resources to sustain successful athletes, coaches, and clubs
Support public engagement for growth in swimming participation and interest
USA Swimming recognized as Best in Class”
- Enact creative strategies to achieve our mission through education and awareness
- Support USA Swimming by implementing initiatives and programs that will increase participation among underrepresented populations
- Assist USA Swimming in creating an atmosphere of inclusion for all families, athletes, volunteers, and coaches
- Identify opportunities that will reduce gender disparity among the coaching and leadership ranks
- Advocate for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion for USA Swimming
- The committee will work closely with the USA Swimming Staff Liaison as assigned.
We will come up with strategic, manageable goals that we hope will be met over a period of time. This is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s taken this long to get a real seat at the table, so expecting immediate results is not realistic, however, it’s a goal of mine personally to ensure things get done.
How can people get involved to support?
Donations to the USA Swimming Foundation specifically to DEI will certainly help funnel the support in the right direction. Two ways to actively help are signing up kids from diverse backgrounds up for swim lessons, swim teams, etc; and encouraging kids to try swimming or for young adults/parents to try coaching/learning to officiate.
Websites to visit: