They say disability isn’t inability, and American Paralympic swimmer Jamal Hill demonstrates this exceptionally well. Born with a neurological condition, he’s determined not to let the disease stop him from pursuing his dreams. From wanting to compete at the Olympics to becoming a Paralympian, he says he never wanted to use his condition as an excuse. Here’s a look at his story.
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Jamal Hill’s parents never learned how to swim, like in most black families, because of the fear of water. However, Hill began swimming when he was 10 months old. By the time he was six, he participated in organized swimming.
However, his journey wouldn’t be as smooth. When Hill was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), a condition that affects his limbic movement. However, he never spoke about it.
It impacts his swimming abilities as it causes him to have more drag because the nerves on his arms and legs aren’t working at all. When swimming, he concentrates on moving his arms and legs even though the nerves are dead.
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12 Years in Silence
For 12 years, Jamal Hill never spoke to anyone about his condition and the challenges he faces as a result. His parents never told him about his condition because they never wanted him to live in despair. Even then, Hill knew something was off.
In his pursuit to be an Olympic swimmer, he kept going despite the pain. He wanted to be treated the same way as other swimmers, get equal opportunities and be judged for his ability in the pool. As he puts it, Hill never wanted to use his condition as an excuse.
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Becoming an Olympian
In 2017, he left college aged 22 to fulfil his dream. Despite being tight-lipped about everything, his swimming coach, Wilma Wong, noticed something about his movements. For the first time, he admitted to living with CMT. She advised him to reconsider his Olympic ambitions but he pushed back on the thought of not fulfilling his ambition.
A few months after that conversation, someone suggested that he join the Paralympics. This time, he followed the advice and began competing in the Paralympics. Jamal Hill said that this was a way of embracing his condition and acknowledging the difficulties that come with it.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Hill won a bronze medal in the 50m freestyle. He’s also won a bronze in the World Championships in Madeira.
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Forming Swim Up Hill Foundation
Jamal Hill started his foundation, the Swim Up Hill Foundation, in 2020, through which he teaches young people how to swim. They developed a curriculum to help learners master the techniques of swimming.
They give people a chance to learn from those who showed fear of swimming to those who’ve experienced drowning. The Swim Up Hill Foundation aims to team 1 million annually by 2028.
One of the aims is to shed the stereotype that black people can’t swim. Beyond that, they want to provide access to anyone interested in the sport.
Jamal Hill proved to himself and other people living with different conditions that they could still achieve their dreams. He now uses his platform to solve systemic issues like the lack of representation in swimming and giving a chance to everyone.
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