Olympic swimmer to teach Memphis kids water safety

Cullen Jones, Photo: USA Swimming.
Cullen Jones, Photo: USA Swimming.

(WMC-TV) - A gold medal winner will teach Memphis kids water safety this fall, but it took a near fatal accident to turn Cullen Jones into a world class swimmer.

Jones was part of a world record-setting swimming relay during the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Now, he's preparing to head to London to compete in this year's games.

It may be hard to believe, but Jones says he hasn't always been a good swimmer.

In the 2008 Olympics, Jones won the gold medal in the 400 freestyle relay, becoming the second African-American swimmer to take home gold, and the first to hold a world record.

But growing up, learning to swim was the last thing on his mind.

"My dad was a basketball player," he said. "I watched the NBA and he was like, 'You want to play basketball.'"

But when Jones was five, a trip to a water park changed his life.

"We went down this ride and I ended up flipping upside down because I was so light and I almost drowned," he said.

After that, learning to swim became a priority, but it wasn't easy growing up in an inner-city neighborhood.

"Fifteen years old, and I'm like, 'Dad, there's no black people here,'" Jones said. "He's like, 'Well, if you stuck with basketball, you wouldn't have this problem.'"

At the Olympic Trials this summer, Jones fulfilled his dream of qualifying for 2 Olympic individual events.

He won the 50 freestyle and placed second in the 100 freestyle.

"I'm really excited about it," he said. "I've wanted to swim the 50. I've wanted to swim the 100 in the Olympics for a really long time."

Jones will also compete in the 4-by-100 freestyle relay, that's the event that won him gold in Beijing.

Now he's fine-tuning his techniques at the Olympic training camp.

"Everything's changed," Jones said. "My mindset's changed. My diet, for sure, has changed. My coach has changed my stroke, everything"

Jones says his hard work is finally paying off and winning more gold is his only goal for London.

"When you can sit back and you're standing on the podium and you hear your national anthem, that's what I swim for," he said.

Jones works with the USA Swimming Foundation to inspire other kids like him.

Make-A-Splash Mid-South entered a video contest sponsored by the foundation and won. The group won the opportunity to meet Cullen Jones as part of a swim lesson.

He'll be here in Memphis this fall after he returns from the London Olympics.

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