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Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones discusses overcoming obstacles


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Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones (left) is interviewed by alumni's Perry Farrel (middle) and Talia Mark-Brookshire (right) on Oct. 14 in Warriner Hall's Plachta Auditorium .

Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones discussed the struggles he has faced, how he was able to persevere and advice he has for students about maintaining balance in school with the Central Michigan University community on Oct. 14.

Jones discovered his love for swimming at 5 years old. It wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he began to improve his ability as a swimmer. 

“I loved that it was challenging,” Jones said.

Jones explained that he was the only Black person to be on majority of his swim teams throughout his life. This was another challenge that he had to face, in addition to training to be the best swimmer he could be. 

During his time on swim teams, Jones said he constantly received backlash from parents of rival teams and sometimes even the parents of his own teammates, but his parents always kept him grounded. 

Jones said his father often told him to “never let anyone hold you back.” 

As a young black man being singled out by many, Jones thought this was a tremendous weight he carried on his shoulders, although he was able to recognize where it was all coming from.

“That is when I first learned what it meant to have haters,” he said.

Jones realized that all of the parents that looked down on him were upset to see a young black man improve and win, especially instead of their own child. Jones took that hate and accumulated it within his training. 

Jones mentioned that his biggest idol that he looked up to as a kid was Michael Jordan. 

“That’s what an athlete looks like,” Jones said. 

It’s the effort and work that Michael Jordan put in when he would get his head in the game, regardless of his physical or mental state, that made Jones look up to him and gravitate towards his mindset as an athlete. 

“No matter how you feel, you put the team on your back and make that the priority,” he said.

When Jones attended North Carolina State University, he eventually found himself struggling to maintain a balance between being on the swim team and school. It reached a point where he could no longer swim on the team because his GPA was too low. He was forced to focus on his education when his passion was being in the pool. 

“I had to stub my toe to learn a lesson,” Jones said.

He said was able to overcome his many challenges due to his love of swimming and sustaining his motivation even when he didn’t achieve his goals. 

However, Jones believes he couldn’t have done it without his continuous inspiration from his mentors, fellow teammates, and most of all, his parents. 

Jones advice to student’s is to maintain focus on their ideal situation that comes into mind when visualizing their own future.

“There is no time to do anything else," Jones said. "The problem is when you start to put other factors into that equation and you make them a priority."

Jones said he recognizes that it is extremely hard to balance school with life, let alone sports. He stressed that when focus is strayed away from the original purpose or goal that was envisioned, balance becomes most difficult.

“How did I do that? How did I do all that training and go to class?” Jones said. “It is because I found a cycle and just kept with it, and if I tried to add things to it, I would have to make sure that I understood that if I was taking from this (bucket), I was going to lose from this (bucket)."  

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