Simone Manuel poses for a portrait at the USOC Rio Olympics Shoot at Quixote Studios on Nov. 21, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Simone Manuel made history nearly a year ago at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 when she became the first black woman to win an individual medal in swimming, tying for gold in the 100-meter freestyle and setting an Olympic record (52.70) in the process.
Manuel left Rio with a total of four medals — two gold, two silver — and has since been crushing records and collecting hardware from the college to the world stage, including winning five gold medals at the recent FINA World Championships in Hungary.
In honor of Manuel’s 21st birthday on Tuesday, here are 21 facts about the Sugar Land, Texas, native and one of the world’s fastest swimmers.
1. Manuel took her first swim lesson when she was 4 because her parents wanted all their children to be safe in the water, and by 9 was beginning to pursue the sport seriously. At 11, she joined Houston’s First Colony Swim Team and became an elite competitor.
2. She tells the story of going to a swimming clinic when she was young and an Olympian putting a medal around her neck. Manuel realized then that she wanted to one day compete in the Olympics.
3. She competed internationally for the first time in 2011 at the FINA World Junior Championships and finished fourth in the 100 free.
4. At the 2013 world championships, the 16-year-old Manuel became the first U.S. junior swimmer to break the 25-second barrier in the 50 free.
5. As a freshman at Stanford in 2014-15, Manuel was a four-time national champion (50 free, 100 free, 400 free relay, 400 medley relay) as well as the Pac-12 Swimming Freshman/Newcomer of the Year.
6. Manuel redshirted the 2015-16 season in an athletic capacity, but continued to keep up with her college coursework throughout her training and preparation for the Rio Games.
7. Returning to Stanford for the 2016-17 season, Manuel helped lead the Cardinal to its first NCAA championship since 1998. Stanford also won the Pac-12 title, and Manuel was named Pac-12 Swimmer of the Year.
8. Manuel was undefeated in the 100 free during the 2016-17 season.
9. She currently holds five Stanford records (50 free, 100 free, 200 free relay, 400 free relay and 800 free relay).
10. In addition to winning another four NCAA titles in 2017, Manuel also became the first woman to swim the 100-yard freestyle in under 46 seconds, finishing with a time of 45.56 to claim the NCAA title and set a new NCAA and American record.
11. Manuel doesn’t just excel in the pool. The communications major was named First-Team Academic All-America this year by the College Sports Information Directors of America and has a 3.48 GPA. She was also named a Pac-12 All-Academic honoree in 2017 and a CSCAA Scholar All-America.
12. Manuel threw out the first pitch to J.J. Watt at his Charity Classic at Minute Maid Park in May in Houston. The annual event features a home run derby and softball game between the offensive and defensive players from the Houston Texans.
13. She joined Michelle Obama in reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” at the National Christmas Tree Lighting in 2016.
14. Although she had the opportunity to leave college and potentially earn money in endorsements following the Olympics, Manuel said that returning to Stanford wasn’t a difficult decision. Her coaches and teammates supported her so much through the process of redshirting the season before the Rio Games to train that she wanted to go back and be a part of the team and continue participating in Pac-12 and NCAA championships.
15. In an interview with “Good Morning America,” Manuel said she was keeping her Olympic medals in socks in Rio because it kept them from scratching.
16. Manuel is part of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative that offers free or low-cost swim lessons to children across the U.S. She often speaks about the importance of kids learning how to swim as a life-saving skill.
17. Her two brothers and her father all played basketball in college. Ryan, who is three years older, played at Southern Methodist, and Chris, who is five years older, played at Oklahoma Christian. Her father, Marc, played at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.
18. Her nickname is “Swimone.”
19. She won USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle Award for race of the year in 2016 for her historic victory in the 100 freestyle in Rio.
20. Manuel had never medaled in the 100-meter at the world championships before she beat world record holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden to win gold on July 28. Her winning time of 52.27 seconds set a new American record.
21. After finishing the world championships in Budapest with five gold medals and one bronze medal, Manuel tweeted, “All glory to God! So humbled and grateful to represent the USA doing what I love the most. Thanks for all the support! Budapest was a dream!”