Place of residence: Charlotte, N.C.
Why he is a Game Changer: How do you top being only the second African American to win an Olympic gold in swimming? If you’re Jones, 28, you do it by winning another gold medal and two silver medals, in addition to your first individual medal, in your second Olympic Games.
Jones, the only African American to hold a record in swimming, did that in 2012 London Games without, it seems, breaking much of a sweat. But don’t get it twisted, years of hard work and training went in to helping Jones reach his goals.
He lost the gold medal in the 50m freestyle by just a hair.
“I’m thankful that I got second. I was dreaming of gold and I really wanted to get first, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. Getting silver is enough motivation for the future,” Jones said after the event.
But the words were spoken like a true champion. Jones didn’t trash his opponent. Instead, he said he planned to use the second place finish as motivation for the next time.
It’s similar to the way Jones’ mother used his near drowning as a child as a motivation for him to learn how to swim. It’s turned into an excellent career for Jones as well as foster a passion to help others.
Jones has worked with Make A Splash, an anti-drowning initiative from The USA Swimming Foundation, to teach kids and parents, especially African-American and Latino parents, about the life-saving benefits of learning how to swim.
Seventy percent of Black and 50 percent of Latino kids don’t know how to swim even as drowning is the second-leading cause of child death.
And the biggest factor keeping Black and Latino kids out of the water the USA Swimming Foundation found is not money or lack of access to a pool, it’s parents’ fear of the water.
Jones knows firsthand that fear can be deadly. He toured 9 cities with Make A Splash in 2012 and shows no signs of slowing down in 2013. Here are Jones’ thoughts on the importance of learning to swim:
I always hear so many stories from different people, even in my own family, where they’ve had such bad experiences with being in the water and swimming that I can really relate. I can sit back and go, This is what happened to me. I completely get it. But that’s never a reason for you not to learn how to swim. You see a lot of that, especially in the African-American community. Something happens, and then it’s the first instinct — and I think it’s only natural — is to kind of back away. But the famous saying is when you fall off the horse, you’ve got to hop back on. It’s the same thing when it comes to swimming.
As long as kids are (A) unfortunately out there drowning, and (B) I have a platform from which I can continue to give kids that exposure to a sport that many kids don’t know about and (C) they’re willing to listen, I’m definitely open to doing this.
Jones has a bright future ahead of him. He has an interest in fashion and wants to launch his own denim line one day. He was at Fashion Week just after the summer Olympics, and 2016 and the Rio games are right around the corner. It sounds like Jones is going back for that individual gold.
“Yes, I am pretty focused in that effort. Some of my best swims are still ahead of me. I’m putting it out there—I want to go!” he told Teen Vogue.